Hayden Peak, CO Backcountry Report: Taking Advantage of Stable Conditions to Check Off Sweet Objectives

Clay Malott | BackcountryBackcountry | Conditions ReportConditions Report
Pushing to the summit. Photo credit: Clay Malott

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Report from Saturday April 10th, 2021

The last two weeks in the mountains around Aspen, Colorado, have been warm. With daytime temperatures consistently into the 50s, the warm temperatures and sun during the day combined with hard freezes at night have made for some pretty… interesting skiing conditions. Fortunately, the warm temperatures have really helped the snowpack heal and have brought tons of options back on the table avalanche-wise.

We decided to take advantage of the stable conditions before the next storm cycle hits early next week. This time of year is what I call “objective skiing”; we know that the snow conditions won’t be great, but the avalanche conditions permit us to check off some sweet objectives. At 13,500 feet, Hayden is an objective that is seldom done without stable conditions, so we had to take advantage of it.

We parked at the Ski Hayden Pullout on Castle Creek Road at about 6:30 am, where we applied our skins and got geared up to head up. From the trailhead, you could see Hayden looming in the distance (just as a note, the actual peak is called Ski Hayden Peak, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll often refer to it as Hayden Peak).

Hayden Peak looms in the distance from the trailhead. Photo credit: Clay Malott

The Ski Hayden Peak Access Trail meanders up through the trees along Sawyer Creek. The trail is fairly uneventful and takes you through some pretty dense woods. About 20 minutes into the tour, we emerged into a clearing where an avalanche had completely buried the skintrack. We toured up that same skintrack a week ago, so the avalanche was fairly recent. It was powerful, evident by the large tree trunks that it carried with it.

Large wet slab release that buried the skintrack. Photo credit: Clay Malott

Eventually, the trail emerged from the trees and deposited us at a subpeak of Ski Hayden Peak, including a highly dangerous line known as the Stammberger Face. We continued up a drainage to the right to access the main northeast face of Ski Hayden.

Emerging from the trees to a spectacular view of the Stammberger Face. Photo credit: Clay Malott

The northeast face of Ski Hayden is about 35-40 degrees all the way to the summit. The steep angle combined with the slippery snow conditions from a hard freeze the night before made the touring up to the top slow going. The hardest part came near the summit, where prior high winds and warm temperatures combined to form some very tricky skinning conditions.

Pushing to the summit. Photo credit: Clay Malott

At the summit, the views did not disappoint. To the west laid nearly the entire Elk Range in all of its magnificence, boasting some of the highest and most technical peaks in the state. To the east lays the Continental Divide. Overall, the views from 13,500′ were simply stunning.

Incredible views to the West of the Elks. Photo credit: Clay Malott

The view angle was just right where you could see all the way south to the San Juans:

The San Juans poking out in the far distance. Photo credit: Clay Malott

We got transitioned and began our descent. The snow was tricky for a decent portion of the descent of the face, as the warm temperatures and winds had formed a crust layer that made turning hard. The descent was still incredible, the face is huge, and it’s always fun to be skiing that high.

Looking down our line of descent. Photo credit: Clay Malott

About 1,500 feet later, once we got a bit lower and wrapped back under the Stammberger Face, we found a great east-facing chute that got some good early sun, where the turns were nice and soft, in stark juxtaposition to Hayden’s northeast face.

Corn is fun. Photo credit: Clay Malott

We continued down our skintrack for a while through the trees before cutting out to the north to find some more sunny skiing. We put our skins back on and climbed a mere 500 feet up to a spectacular east-facing gully. The snow was soft and forgiving and hosted some of the best turns we’ve found in April so far.

We continued to enjoy slushy corn all the way to the creek, where we had to cross a somewhat sketchy balance beam to reach the car on the other side.

Overall, it was a great way to spend a sunny Saturday, and with more snow on the way, we’re trying to make the most of the stability while we have it.

Avalanche Forecast

Saturday’s avalanche forecast. Credit: CAIC

Weather forecast

Next week’s forecast. Credit: NOAA


Skinning up to the east gullies with our previous summit in the background. Photo credit: Clay Malott
The east gully of choice; chock full of hero snow. Photo credit: Clay Malott
Slushy snakes down the gully. Photo credit: Clay Malott

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