Marble to Crested Butte Ski Traverse
On April 13th I drove over to Carbondale to pick up a new pair of skis from Cripple Creek Backcountry. Unfortunately for me, I had some car troubles around Redstone and had to limp into Carbondale. I got word that a couple friends, Doug Stenclik and Sean Vanhorn, were planning a tour de Treasury and Purple mountain out of Marble the next day. Deciding this was an opportunity to abandon my car and embark on long sought after ski traverse home, I jumped at the opportunity to join them for part of their adventure.
This year brought about abundant snow levels and a spring stability that opened up terrain all over the place. With enough lingering snow down into town, a point to point traverse was possible without the spring exercise of hiking or biking the lower elevation areas that normally dry up before the higher elevations stabilize.
I have long been intrigued at the rich history of the connection of these valleys and of what used to be commonplace journey between them. As early at 1880 Al Johnson was carrying 40lbs of mail between Crested Butte and Crystal weekly, year around. A quite impressive journey with the equipment of the day through some of the worst avalanche terrain in the world.
Doug and I skinning across the summit ridge of Treasure. The Elk Mountains and Capitol stretching out behind us.
Our starting point was along the Yule Quarry road that leads to the marble mine that since 1891 has been producing marble for such landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At 6:30am, late by some accounts for a spring mission, but we planned on moving fast, we dropped down from the road about 500ft to be able to cross Yule Creek. Our plan was to climb up an old mining road to the saddle between Whitehouse and Treasure then traverse the North-West ridge to the summit. We ended up boot packing up the lower section of firm snow crossing the road switchbacks till about 10,600ft then skinning up the rest of the way to the saddle around 11,500. Treasure is a big mountain with a ridge almost 3 miles long above 12,000ft. Along the way, we were treated with a beautiful sunrise clear skies and some bitter winds. We followed the ridge past the summit at 13,528 to a bowl just East of the Yule Lakes. From here we skied down into the upper valley above Yule Creek to 11,500ft. This allowed us to preserve some elevation then traverse around to a bench above the valley that would lead us up into a bowl on the West side of the North ridge of Purple. The ski down the South-East slopes was just beginning to soften at about 10:00am, but the 1.5mile 2000ft descent made for some great turns.
The edge of Treasure makes a great location for contemplating future Elk missions. A good shot of the West Face of Snowmass we skied a couple days later.
Doug skiing down the south face of Treasure.
After a quick bite, we began skinning up the bowl to meet the North ridge of Purple at 12,700 and 12:00pm. Since none of us brought crampons or an ice ax, we stopped on the ridge below the steeper 200 ft climb to the summit. This was where our journeys took their separate ways. My initial goal was to ski the South face of Purple as that is the impressive large open expanse of the Paradise Divide view you get driving into Crested Butte. Instead, we ended up on the North side of the Peak, thus the East face was going to be the descent so that I could have a couple spotters watch me ski before they turned their own way back to Marble. Although just on the late side of soft, I still had quite a few quality corn turns down the face. This is also an impressive ski that you get to dream about while on the summer trail from the Paradise Divide parking area to Yule Pass. It leads down to a bench about 800ft above the Slate River that leads South for about a mile before dropping you down to the first switchback up the road to Paradise Divide above the old mining town of Pittsburgh.
Dropping off purple you can see me as a small dot on the bottom with Crested Butte Mountain looming so far away towards the top of the photo.
From Pittsburgh, it is about 8 miles into Crested Butte. It turned out to be a scorching afternoon, but lovely none the less. I was able to ski all the way secretly hoping in the back of my mind that a snowmobile would pass by and I could hitch a tow. Alas, it never did so I enjoyed the simplicity of cruising back on my own beside the coyote I was watching following along from the other side of the Slate.
Overall it was about 21 miles and 7400 ft of elevation gain. A bit more than if a direct route was taken, but worth it to add the peaks. It was also a different route than what Al Johnson and others would take through Schofield park to Crystal, but it leaves me dreaming of other interesting ways to use skis as transportation like the old fashion way.
Rocking my new Salomon Explorer 88s just a bit shy of the summit of Purple before the long ski home.
Guest post submitted by 2 time Grand Traverse finisher Donny Davol
- Doug Stenclik