Perfection " almost |

Perfection " almost

A skier and a dog enjoy scenic East Elk Creek on Saturday. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

NEW CASTLE ” Saturday almost was too perfect ” the outing, the weather, the snow. I guess that’s the explanation for our minor lapse in gear judgment ” to prevent absolute perfection and keep us mortal.

On a whim, our party of two skiers and two dogs headed up East Elk Creek outside of New Castle in search of new vistas and terrain that wouldn’t slide down on top of us. We were sort of guessing on both counts, as only I had only been up this gorgeous valley once, years ago, in the summer months.

As it turned out, the snow was deep, but some intrepid skier had broken a narrow trench of a trail before us. We headed up through trees flocked with massive amounts of snow, alongside the gurgling creek, between cliff faces too vertical to hold the kind of accumulations that might avalanche. Mature stands of conifers and no sign of old slide zones anywhere helped allay our fears.

The day was warm ” we both shed our caps quickly ” even though the low clouds dropped fat flakes that wafted down lazily. It was snowing, but it hardly counted as that. The upper cliffs, encased in clouds, would occasionally reveal themselves in a shaft of unexpected sunlight. In some spots, rows of icicles dangled from the rock bands. There were a lot of oohs and ahs.

It was all quite spectacular, and the dogs wore themselves out bounding through the deep snow until they succumbed to trotting up the already broken trail, but as we climbed through the trees, our gear oversight came back to haunt us. We had waxed our touring skis, but neglected to bring along climbing skins. The climb didn’t seem that great, but herringboning through the deep snow on a couple of steeper stretches was exhausting. An hour and a quarter into it, we were staring into a long downhill pitch and thinking about the effort it would take to get back out. We turned around.

The cruise back down to the truck hinted at an elevation gain we’d scarcely noticed for most of the ski in.

Back at the truck, there were the inevitable “we’ll be back” vows. With the skins.

The Aspen Skiing Co. reported 2 inches of new snow at Snowmass over the past 24 hours in its Sunday morning report. Aspen Mountain got 1 inch, while Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk received no new snow.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s Sunday report for the Aspen zone:

The avalanche danger is considerable on all slopes near and above treeline. Natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered ones probable. Be especially careful around wind loaded terrain near and above treeline on slopes facing north, northeast, east, southeast and south. Strong winds out of the west and northwest during the day yesterday have transported lots of snow onto these aspects. Large paths that did not run during the last cycle are worrisome as well. Avalanche danger below treeline is an overall moderate. Human-triggered avalanches are still possible here.

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