On the hill: Moody Independence Pass
June 1, 2011
Man, is there ever a lot of snow up on Independence Pass. Whether you’re a backcountry skier, a frustrated hiker or just a sightseer, you really should take an hour or two this week to lay eyes on the mid-winter scene on the Continental Divide just east of Aspen.
I spent a portion of last Saturday, Sunday and Monday up there, and the snowy scenes are still dancing in my head, from the partially buried cabins of Independence ghost town to the 20-foot snowbanks on the top cut of the pass road, from the looping curves of our ski tracks in Saturday’s sweet, sunny corn to the wind-blown graupel that pelted our faces and goggles on Monday.
Saturday’s trip was a ski tour on Independence Mountain, above the snowbound ghost town. Pete, Doug and I got an early start and logged two laps on the 12,700-foot peak, one on the east face and one on the north, before the temperatures warmed up and the snow turned to mush. Aah, spring skiing – there’s nothing quite like skiing a big peak and then changing into shorts and flip-flops for the ride home.
Sunday I fixed a pancake breakfast for the family before hauling them all up the pass, just to see the historic snowpack. Owing to a bathroom emergency, we couldn’t stay long, but there was a festival atmosphere at the top as skiers, snowboarders, kite-skiers and curious families gawked and played on the snow under blue skies. On the way back down, wet snow partially blocked the roadway and the kids squealed at the overhanging snowbanks.
Monday, it was a completely different world up there. Again, Pete, Doug and I rose early for a ski tour, aiming this time for 13,300-foot Geissler Mountain. Unfortunately, it was cold, cloudy and windy, and it only got worse as we approached the peak. Upon reaching the rocky summit ridge, we strapped the skis to our packs and booted our way to the summit while getting mercilessly pummeled, whipsawed and spun by the wind. More than an hour of wind-whipped climbing, followed by a one-minute descent on a bulletproof surface.
I skied back to the car in a stiff headwind to put in a few hours at the office, but my colleagues soldiered on, booting their way up Blue Peak and skiing down on reportedly softer snow. Good on ’em.
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With the sun having reappeared, it’ll be a wonderland up there.