James Peak always grabbed my attention when I would ride my mountain bike in Nederland. There is a distinct elevator shaft right from the summit. Over the years I hiked up the peak in summer, and skied up the North side in the winter. The East face is a steep cliff but the elevator shaft provides a way essentially to ski through a massive cliff.
I have been mixing visits to the Front Range with skiing some of my check-box lines. I had mixed feelings about bringing my skis to the Front Range being I just had my best rides yet this year up Cement Creek here in CB. While dryness and high winds usually make for less than-ideal winter skiing conditions on the Front Range, the combination of metamorphic and granite formations plus high winds during winter create some awesome spring skiing in couloirs. These steep rock formations often have splits or deep chasms through the rock. Luckily the winds blow from the West, and the Cirques generally face East thus they get loaded all winter with snow. Add some melt freeze cycles in the spring to lock up the dangerous snowpack, and its couloir season!
The weather was pretty stormy Saturday but Zach was stoked to get out. That's one of the things I like about Zach, he is excited to get out rain or shine. We bumbled up Mammoth Gulch road by Rollinsville/Tolland until we hit a snowplug that was not passable in our vehicle. This meant more approach, but it's easy. A few miles walking on a jeep road then we reach the singletrack that drops down to James Lake.
We could never see the peak due to the storm but I have a decent visual memory of places that I have been before. Aaron and I attempted it a few years ago so I had an image in my head what the peak looked like.
Unfortunately Isaac and J1 had to turn back because of a commitment but Zach, David and I pressed on. We could not see the peak even when we were on it. Hope we are walking up the right couloir!
The storm intensified but in the couloir it was pretty sheltered. Zach over-did the sunscreen, going for the "Dead Presidents" look.
The couloir doglegs over a cliff and then gets tight. The line has a sustained steepness of 5o-55 degrees. While the rocks were wet from the warm temperatures the snow was firm/frozen cramponing with a thin layer of sticky snow.
This was David's first time skiing Colorado, so he got the honors of dropping in first. He drove down from Wyoming to hang with Zach and get a taste of Colorado couloir skiing.
The first person would pretty much scrape off the new snow, but the old melt freeze was actually pretty grippy under the edges. Certainly not hero conditions but it skied pretty well. Zach exiting the upper chute.
Around the cliff and onto the steep apron.
Once we got to the bottom Zach was motivated for more. We started booting towards another couloir then heard a thunder clap. We decided it was time to go. A short boot up to a bench, and there are a few couloirs that take the final plunge to James Lake. We were a little uncertain about which one cliffed out, but we wanted to get down. We never saw lightening but it spooked us none-the-less. The turns in the 2nd couloir were the best we had all day. It was less steep so we could really open it up! There was two rock chokes and Zach aired the second.
The ski was broken but held together by the top sheet. Luckily we were not far from the lake and Zach was able to ski the rest with pretty much one ski. Hopefully BD will hook him up with some new boards!
The walk out was pretty spectacular. We still could not see the peak, but the storms were low down at this point and we enjoyed the sun.
Awesome line. Been wanting to ski that for years. It was a bit scary at first because I have not skied in a month, but settled into a groove. The next day we ski powder at Rocky Mountain National Park, but that's another story!