Winter Camping in the West Needles

Winter Camping

Lured by a full moon and a forecast of clear skies, this last weekend I went backpacking for two nights in the West Needle Mountains in the San Juans near Silverton, Colorado. This area is incredibly photogenic; from my campsite on a 12,200 ft ridgeline, I enjoyed broad vistas of the Needle Mountains, the West Needles, and all the peaks of the Molas Pass area.

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A Few Afternoon Shots

Here’s a couple photos from snowboarding this afternoon in the rugged peaks about five minutes drive from Ouray. March is here, and spring seems right around the corner, even though everything is still smothered in fresh snow. The sun is really getting higher in the sky these days, and the foot of fresh snow that fell last night had melted to a crusty 5 or 6 inches by the time we got out there for an afternoon run. Oh well… next powder day I’ll head out in the morning if I can.

splitboarding
Here’s Parker splitboarding up in front of a rugged San Juan backdrop.

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Pillow Heaven

Pillow Heaven
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Today we rode what was perhaps the best snowboarding terrain I’ve ever ridden in my life. This was a long, steep, narrow gully that we had previously scoped out from a neighboring mountain. What I couldn’t see from a distance is that the sides of this gully were loaded with a plethora of fluffy pillows! Many backcountry riders might agree that the only thing better than a nice steep halfpipe gully is a long series of marshmallowy pillow drops. Well, this run was the ultimate 2-in-1 combo!

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Live to Ski Another Day

towncouloir.jpg

On Friday morning a group of us headed out to enjoy the foot of fresh snow that had fallen the previous day and night.  Our goal was the “Town Couloir”, a steep and narrow couloir that cuts through tall cliffs all the way to the bottom of the Ouray valley.  This lower altitude line is rarely in good shape, but heavy snowfalls this season have filled it in nicely.

The bluebird skies and fresh snow had me excited to ride, but as we neared the steeper slopes at the top, we became concerned about the avalanche potential.  The foot of fresh snow was sitting on top of an older layer of crusty sunbaked snow.  Though the top layer seemed pretty cohesive, the terrain above the entrance to the couloir is like a huge funnel into the narrow choke, so any slide would have disastrous results.  After a brief discussion, we decided to do the responsible thing and turn back.  We skiied/rode down the flat traversing route that we hiked up… all in all a supremely crappy run.

Even though I always hate turning back, it’s reassuring to know that my partners and I have the ability to do so.