There are two ways to ski up to Greeley Ponds. I had been up one way, but not the other. For various reasons it ended up that the AMC trip I’ll be leading at the end of the month is planned to go the other way. So today’s trip was to scout it out.
The continuous light snowing for the past few days ment there was delightful powder. There was another group who showed up just ahead of us, so I knew I was at least starting in the right spot. There is a map posted at the bottom and it showed two trails: one a blue trail which joined up with the hiking trail, and another a black trail which stayed apart until the saddle. I figured we would take the blue trail since I was planning on an intermediate trip. Unfortunately the other group took the black trail so they didn’t break trail for us on the way up.
The blue trail was easy and not very notable except for the beauty of being outside in the snow, and the amusement of not being able to see one’s skis when breaking trail. There were a couple of open stream crossings which required some bushwhacking to get around.
Then we hit the hiking trail. It had been beaten down by snowshoers so the going was easy even though it was a constant up hill. Neither Tyson nor I had any issues with it, but it seemed to require a bit more hill climbing technique than I was sure an intermediate skier had, and it was narrow enough that herringboning would be hard. Also I wasn’t sure about the down hill ski on it. So I was wondering what the black trail looked like.
At the saddle we met back up with the other trail and the other skiers tracks and also a side hiking trail up to East Osceola peak. There was a sign giving distances, and it said we had been 1.3 miles. I found that a little odd since the description I had copied from the previous year said 7 miles total. We skied the short way down the hill to the first pond. The ski trail went straight across the mostly frozen over pond. I say mostly because we could see where the other skiers had sunk in slush.
Once on the other side, I was back on familiar terrain, however I insisted we press on to check the total distance. At the second pond we ran into the other folks again. They were busy scrapping skis and weren’t inclined to cross the second pond. We struck out across the pond in a maneuver that felt more like being swept down the pond by the wind than skiing. There was so little purchase on the ice that I ended up with my skis sideways to my motion a number of times. At the other end we checked the gps — halfway distance of 2.25 miles. That definitely doesn’t add up to 7. I am guessing the trip description from last year was copied from the year before that when it came up the oposite trail. And somehow the distance never got updated. Oops.
Well we headed back up the hill. Lunch was back at the first pond. We figured we would take the black trail back down. We pulled out my map and it actually rated it as blue and didn’t show the way we had come up at all. However, if we just went down, we would be at the car in no time at all. Instead we decided to take a gander at the hiking trail up to East Osceola.
This was definitely a hiking trail. Within about 6 yards we decided to put the skins on. The first while was easy going with the skins on. There was snow in the air, so we never got proper views, but we got hints of the valley below and the opposing mountains. If the whole trail had been like the first part, we probably could have made good progress. But the map showed the middle section as crossing lots of contour lines. It was quite evident when we hit that section. The going got hard. We started sliding back a bit. And we started looking back down the trail wondering if we really were going to ski back down it.
We eventually got halted by the trail. I was not able to climb any farther. Tyson suggested booting it to get up to the ridge, a worthy destination. That got us about 2 inches higher. Obviously traction devices (crampons) were needed here. It also happened to be just about 3pm, my turn around time. We made it up to 3350′ starting from 2200′ at the saddle and 1850′ at the parking lot.
The first bit back down, we just slid on our boots. Skiing looked like an invitation to death. Then we skied out the rest of the way with our skins still on. The hiking trail was narrow enough that there was not much way to turn. So we were relying on the friction of the skins and a foot or more of powder.
By the time we got back down to the saddle it was dusk. We deskinned, filled up on hot chocolate, and pointed our skis down the so called black trail. Now it was fortuitous that the other group had taken that route because their track gave us an obvious path in the declining light. Compared to what we had just skied, it seemed like a green trail. I tried to pay attention to note what sort of skill level trip participants would need to ski it vs the route we had taken up in the morning, but really, I was just headed home in the dark on an easy glide.
We got to the car a bit past 5pm. So the issue with it getting dark was not my estimate of how long it would take us, but rather the fact that I had thought the sun was setting around 5pm. oops.