TBT TR: Mt. Aetna Ski (12 May 2019)
(Last Updated On: May 1, 2020)
This post is part of a Throwback Thursday series featuring trip reports that we haven’t had a chance to write about until now! Look for them on Thursdays!
Despite the onslaught of Coronavirus and the fact that life has basically been “closed” for about 6 weeks now, the skiing in the Elks has been quite good this spring. But, these last few days, it’s been exceptionally hot for being the end of April, which has brought a huge change in our snowpack. The percolation of water has caused our snowpack to become unstable and a wet slide avalanche caused the death of a community member on Tuesday. Because of this, Frank and I have stepped back from skiing for a little while to let the snow shift to a stable spring/summer snowpack. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t still post about skiing.
Last year was an even better spring for skiing. A stellar snow year made for great coverage. The one caveat was having to travel through avalanche debris leftover from a historic avalanche cycle that rampaged across our state during the end of February and early March. After a May storm hit our mountains, steeper lines slid out from the new snow on the hard surface underneath. But, mellower lines were skiing well as the new snow didn’t slide. Mt. Aetna is one of those mellower-style lines, but offers a long descent with relatively easy access. There’s a reason the Grand Couloir is a classic. I’d never skied it, though it had long been on my list. It was time to check this one off.
Mt. Aetna’s Grand Couloir faces south, and can easily be seen from near the summit of Monarch Pass. This year, it looked more like a snow-covered face rather than a couloir.
We were able to skin the majority of the access road and new snow helped us gain a few extra minutes of skinning time that didn’t exist a few days before. After about an hour and 1000 vertical feet, we left the road to ascent Mt. Aetna, another 3000 vertical feet to the summit.
As I mentioned, the slopes of Mt. Aetna are gentle. But it does ramp up for the last 1000 feet or so. Mark and I transitioned to booting while Frank kept skins on, eventually gaining the ridge on the lookers left.
The ascent route generally takes you a little north of the summit. So, once we gained the upper block, it was a quick walk on the ridge to the true summit.
Some views of the summit. Looking back, it’s amazing how caked the Southern Sawatch was, especially for mid-May!
Warming of the new storm snow made for a little bit of sticky conditions on the descent. All the same, it was still good. Frank.
The road back to the car provided some easy skiing for the finish, with the exception of two paths of avy debris. These were interesting as the avalanches did not travel down a historic path. Rather, they created new ones.
It was a good day on a classic line during an epic year of snow-cover. If you’re thinking about hitting this line in mid-May in another season, expect different conditions most years. But, The Grand Couloir on Mt Aetna is certainly a classic!
Brittany Walker Konsella
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