A Precarious Day
(Last Updated On: January 10, 2019)
Let’s face it. Some peaks live up to their name. Others do not. Precarious Peak is one of those that happens to be very aptly named.
I had been eying this peak for a few years, but didn’t actually seriously consider it until this season. Suddenly, it became a real goal- a must-do. And so we did it.
We began in the early morning hours, parking at the closed gate about 1/4 of a mile past the now-defunct Avery Picnic area. We began hiking on an unofficial trail that leads from there to Rustler’s Gulch.
We found good firm snow to travel upon through most of Rustler’s Gulch.
Precarious on the left, Cassi in the middle, Goldentops on the right.
The meltwater was running on top of the snow, similar to glaciers.
Climbing Precarious is difficult, though easier done in snow-cover due to the extremely loose talus. We ended up climbing the notch between the two peaks (hidden in the picture, but snow-filled), then ascending the steep snowfield shown in the picture. Not seeing a feasible way to the summit from there, we downclimbed a few hundred feet down into the next lookers right snowfield, which led us to the summit.
The climb, at times, was very steep – 50+ degrees. Here, I was very much wishing I had my second ice axe.
After the downclimb which led us lookers right into a hanging snowfield, we had a clear route to the summit.
Finally, on the summit, we took a few moments to rest. A view looking to the east.
The summit of Precarious is precarious as well. Though long, it’s not very wide. We had to follow the knife edge eastward for a bit before arriving to the top of our north-facing line. This was difficult for me as I don’t do well with huge exposure on both sides. I wanted to avoid the debacle and drop down one of the south facing chutes, but the sun had been on them too long. They were no longer safe to ski. Our only option was the north-facing couloirs, in which we would drop in “blind”, not having actually seen what we were going to ski or knowing whether or not the line skied cleanly. Jarrett, checking out the routes to the south.
I’ll be honest, the climb had shaken me. All of it was more difficult than I anticipated and I was shaking from adrenaline. I took some time to regroup for a moment as we transitioned to ski. But, Jarrett was antsy, and descended to the bottom without us.
My first turns were steep, but helped get the jitters out.
Frank paused at a notch where the route split. We tried to signal down to Jarrett to help us determine whether the left route actually went. But, the signals were lost. I volunteered to follow Jarrett’s tracks down and then signal back up to Frank to help guide him down the mountain.
While Frank waited for me to arrive to the bottom, he enjoyed some of the views. Looking north toward Len Shoemaker and the Pyramid Massif.
Meanwhile, I dropped out of Frank’s sight into the depths of the steep couloir, following Jarrett’s tracks. His tracks led through a tight, rocky choke. Upon first glance, I didn’t think much about it. I figured I’d have to sidestep over the 20-ft section of rocks. No big deal, I’m from Crested Butte afterall, and billy goating is the essence of skiing here. But, upon closer inspection, the choke was steeper, narrower, and gnarlier than I’d anticipated. Straightlining over it was not an option as there was a very deep runnel right in the landing zone.
I turned to begin the sidestep and quickly realized that the rock was not grippy. It was coated with a thin layer of ice. I saw a 6-inch crown to my right, indicating that Jarrett had released a small pocket of snow that had probably covered some of the choke. My skis bowed from end to end as they clung on to rock on either side of the choke, too wide for the choke itself. Sweat poured down my face as I realized this choke was, in actuality, very dangerous. I knew I was taking forever with the careful placement of each step. I knew that Frank was standing up top, wondering what was taking me so long. And I knew that if he began skiing down, all of his slough would come pouring down on me, sending me straight over the choke and into the runnel below.
The last few steps of the choke were impossible. The rock on one side was too convex, too smooth, and too slippery for my skis to keep an edge on it. Again, I contemplated just hopping off and jumping the remaining 5 or 6 feet. But, the runnel was there, right were I would land. I envisioned a nice blown knee if I tried that move. But, right under my feet was a foot wide strip of deep snow, hugged in between bulging rocks. Taking off my skis in precarious situations like these is never really an option, yet here, it suddenly was. My skis simply had nothing to grip on to, but if I could just get my feet into the snow, all would be good.
So, I kicked off a ski, and then the other. I threw one down about 10 feet into a better area and used the other as an anchor in the snow. I slowly downclimbed the last few feet of the choke and onto the widening couloir of snow. As I grabbed my other ski, I tried to stomp out a flattened zone to help me put my skis back on. But, I could not put my skis on. My whole body was shaking, and I was fumbling with even the simple things.
I sidestepped to my left and out of the path of any slough that might come down as I took a few deep breaths to calm down my shaking body. A few moments later, I heard the movement of slough pouring over the rocks. Frank had gotten tired of waiting, and was on his way down.
As I heard his skis turning over the snow, I yelled, trying to warn him about the choke. But, then it was still. I did not hear yells back or see any more moving snow. What happened to Frank? I fumbled again, finally getting my downhill ski on, then my uphill. As I gazed up, I saw slough pouring down below me, coming from another line that apparently emptied into mine a couple hundred feet or so below the choke.
Frank had seen the choke, and instead of getting sucked in like I did, decided to peer over the un-obvious shoulder, and found an alternate route to the skiers left. Frank’s line.
Finally, Frank emerged following all the slough, happy that I had made it through the choke. My legs were all wobbly after the day’s adventures, but I pulled it together to make the remaining turns out of the line.
Frank. In this picture, you can see the choke on the left, and Frank’s line on the right. The choke, in this picture, looks relatively benign and not steep, as it did as I approached it from above. Believe, me, this was not the case, and this picture does not serve it justice.
I was relieved when I emerged out of the couloir and on to the apron.
As we all regrouped, we pondered how to best get out of the basin. We saw col to the looker’s left of Precarious, and thought that might be an easy way out. But, at that point in time, I was done with having precarious adventures and wanted to go a way that we knew would work for sure. It was long, but it was known. We would traverse our way over to East Maroon Pass, and then drop down into Copper Creek.
A look back up at Precarious.
A zoomed in view of our line, which continuously zigzagged down the mountain like a lightning bolt.
Traversing through the East Maroon Creek basin allowed us time to enjoy all the things that this amazing remote area has to offer.
As we rounded the corner, we got a bit turned around. But, a bear showed us the way over East Maroon Pass 🙂
The freshness of the tracks indicted the bear had been there earlier in the afternoon.
Arriving to the top of East Maroon Pass, with the Pyramid Massif behind, and the East Maroon Creek leading down toward Aspen.
From the pass, we admired the views to the south east- The Spider Face and Queen Basin in the distance.
We skied down the pass and right by the slowly melting Copper Lake.
And it was all downhill from there…. Although the route finding through the snow between Copper Lake and the first Copper Creek crossing was difficult and slog-like. Once we finally reunited with the main Copper Creek trail, we put our heads down and skate-skied/walked the remaining 5 miles out.
On the hardest peaks I have skied, I’ve always been mentally prepared for what challenges the mountain has to bring. But, this was not the case this day. Precarious kept throwing more and more at us- from steep climbing and downclimbing, to a knife edge, steep skiing, and a dangerous choke, this mountain wouldn’t let up. Nevertheless, I am glad we pushed through these challenges. Altogether, it was one of those days that was incredibly nerve-racking, yet amazingly fun.
Precarious peak should not go underestimated. Remote and largely unknown, this peak harbors some amazing lines. Precarious definitely ranks among my top 5 of difficult peaks to climb and ski. But, it will also remain as a major highlight, both for this season and beyond.
Brittany Walker Konsella
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7 thoughts on “A Precarious Day”
Wow! This is a great post about quite an adventure. Nice work.
Well written. Glad you didn’t slip, and are reporting a gorgeous and adventurous trip. Beautiful backcountry.
Rowdy, love the story!
Awesome. Definitely felt some nerves reading that!
Well done. Definitely put the reader in your boots. Well written. Tough to share the anxiety of moments like those but you did a nice job sharing the emotions of the day.
You guys are badassessess….
Thrilling! Britt, love your account, though to tell you the truth, having seen all the pictures and read many other stories I though that nothing can scare you! This one gives hope – so you are ‘flesh and blood’ human being! Look at your achievements so far one could have quite a contrary impression 😉
Can’t wait to hear and watch some of your MTB stories, though. Winter seems to be pretty long this year at your place.