Trip Report: Elk Range, CO – Star Peak Ski Mountaineering

Clay Malott | BackcountryBackcountry | Trip ReportTrip Report
Ascending Star’s north ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott

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Report from Friday, May 7.

It’s full-on objective season, and now that the snowpack has mostly stabilized, steeper and more consequential lines are in. Our objective for this mission was Star Peak. Sitting at 13,528′, Star Peak towers along the Elk Crest, looking down at the ski towns of both Aspen and Crested Butte at the same time.

We arrived at the parking lot at Ashcroft at the end of Castle Creek Road at around 5 am and began moving shortly after. The dirt road that began the route had melted out last week, so we started in approach shoes with our skis and boots on our packs. After almost 2 miles, we hit the consistent snow line at about 10,400′, put on our boots, and began touring.

We meandered through some extremely tight trees that ran adjacent to Cooper Creek as we ascended towards Star. The bushwhacking was definitely reminiscent of springtime skiing! Once we crested above treeline at around 11,400′, we were greeted by a spectacular view of one of the upper drainages of the Castle Creek region. Everything just looked like fantastic skiing.

Climbing towards Star. Photo credit: Clay Malott
The author ascends toward Star. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

Four miles and 3,000 feet later, we arrived at the base of a shady couloir that would serve as our access to Star’s north ridge. We swapped skins and poles for crampons and axes and began to ascend towards the ridge.

Making my way up to the ridge with some dramatic scenery in the background. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

The snow in the shade was firm from a good freeze overnight, but nothing too bad. We quickly made it to the ridge, where we crested into the sun and had a spectacular view of the Continental Divide to the East. The ridge wasn’t too technical but was a solid 50/50 mix of snow and rock, which plagued us with the question of “to crampon or not to crampon.” I ended up keeping my crampons on and stepping as lightly as I could over the rock.

Ascending Star’s north ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott
The author ascends Star’s north ridge. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
Star’s summit in the background. Photo credit: Clay Malott

We reached the summit at about 8:20 am, just about three hours after we started. The distance and elevation of our day so far clocked in at about 4.5 miles and 4,500 vertical feet. We enjoyed some spectacular views on the summit and transitioned our skis to begin our descent.

Crested Butte Ski Area and the Western Elks seen from Star Peak. Photo credit: Clay Malott
Prominent Castle Creek peak views. Photo credit: Clay Malott

Now was time for the fun part: skiing. We began our descent by skiing a bit down the ridge before dropping in on Star’s northeast face. The snow was a strange mixture between winter and spring snow.

Dropping in on Star’s northeast face. Photo credit: Clay Malott
Star’s northeast face. Photo credit: Clay Malott

There were some nice looking rolling hills down beneath that appeared to have already softened, so we skied further down the Upper Taylor Creek drainage and harvested some superb corn.

Corny wiggles. Photo credit: Clay Malott

At the bottom of our descent, at about 11,800′, we transitioned back to skins to climb back up out of the Upper Taylor drainage and back down Castle Creek. The sun was stifling hot as we ascended back up the rolling hills and then up a gully to a notch on the ridge between Taylor Peak and Star Peak.

Ascending back up to the Taylor-Star ridge. Photo credit: Nate Rowland
The author topping out on the ridge. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

On the other side of the saddle on the Taylor-Star ridge is a couloir known as the “Doctor Evil couloir,” named after the unique, pinky-like rock butte near the top. The left side of the chute was surprisingly light and wintery, which made for great ski conditions. The bottom was wind-scoured and made for very strange, tricky skiing.

Skiing the Doctor Evil Couloir in strangely wintery conditions. Photo credit: Clay Malott
The author skiing weird, wind-scoured snow in the apron of the couloir. Photo credit: Nate Rowland

We made some nice looking powder squiggles down the couloir:

The Doctor Evil Couloir. Photo credit: Clay Malott

From there, we skied some awesome corn down the upper Cooper Creek drainage before hitting treeline at 11,400′, where the bushwacky terrain forced us into some gullies. Below treeline, the skiing was tough, weird, and not good. I also broke my pole on the descent.

Me making some awkward turns down the creek, broken pole in hand! Photo credit: Clay Malott

After some decent time and lots of effort, we emerged back at the Lindley Hut, where we exited the dirt road into the forest. We got back on the road and switched into our approach shoes. With our skis and boots back on our packs, we made the trek back down to the car lot about two miles down.

Overall, we ended up doing about 11 miles and 5,500 vertical feet, which is a respectable spring day. Additionally, it was my 100th day of skiing in a row. What an awesome way to celebrate. Here’s to more great turns this spring.

Avalanche Forecast

avalanche forecast,
The avalanche forecast for Friday. Credit: CAIC

Weather Forecast

The extended forecast for Aspen, CO. More snow coming! Credit: NOAA

Snowpack

snowpack, colorado
The current state of Colorado’s snowpack. Credit: NOAA

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