Silver Peak

Since visiting Silver Peak last October I’ve dreamt of returning in winter to ski the couloir dividing the twin summits. Kristine told me she was heading down the east side and considering a few ski descents on Sonora and Ebbetts Passes along the way. As soon as she mentioned the “Northwest Couloir on Silver Peak,” I was hooked and, thanks to my enthusiasm, managed to convince Chris to join despite neither of us knowing almost anything about the line.

Early morning sun rises over Ebbetts Pass.

Chris and I headed out from South Lake at 5 am to meet Kristine at the Noble Canyon Trailhead for a 6 am start. This was Chris’s first trip up Ebbetts Pass and only my third (the first being a failed attempt at summitting Silver). As we passed the open gate at Wolf Creek I quickly hopped out of the car to steal partially destroyed “Road Closed” sign laying in the gutter but as I reached for it I realized it was much larger than I’d thought (probably about three feet by five feet). It wouldn’t fit easily in the car and was I wary of swiping the sign in front of a group of Caltrans employees assembling for the day’s road work so we decided we’d make a second attempt on the way home.

Remnant snow fills the deep couloir which divides Silver Peak’s twin summits.

We found Kristine at the trailhead and had a partially obscured view of the couloir. It wasn’t clear whether we’d be able to ski the whole route but I thought it looked like it would go. I used my telephoto lens to take a few closeups and after sharing the photo we all decided that it was at least worth an attempt. Chris and Kristine were hesitant about how steep it might be but I volunteered to ski it first and risk the possibility of booting back up if I came to an impasse and everyone seemed to be okay with this plan.

Chris and Kristine head up Noble Canyon below Silver Peak.

We started shortly after 6 am planning to follow the trail a short while before crossing to the east side of the canyon and starting the climb. From my previous visit I knew that we didn’t want to cross immediately because of a series of large volcanic bluffs which block upward progress. After half a mile we left the trail and headed toward Silver Creek to look for a crossing. The water was moving swiftly though so we returned to the trail, following it another half mile before arriving at the normal stream crossing.

A cairn marks the normal stream crossing.

I don’t even recall meeting a significant stream crossing when I’d taken the trail in October. Now, it seemed like at least two feet of water buried a fifteen foot stretch of trail. I wasn’t eager to get my feet soaked so early in the day. After some discussion, we agreed that however bad the crossing was now it would probably be significantly worse in the afternoon with the addition of the day’s snowmelt.

Granite slabs impede progress upstream.

We searched upstream for a while before finding some slabby granite which impeded the route on the west side of the creek. We found one possible tree bridge, but it was already overtopped by a few inches of water and the stream looked to be more than three feet deep on either side. We backtracked along the creek looking for a possible bridge or shallow section without much luck.

An avalanche ravaged forest emerges from the melting snowpack.

We found a few sections which were about six feet across and perhaps jump-able but the current was so strong here that a slip or fall into the creek would be very difficult to survive.

Silver Creek rages through a tight gorge.

We realized that we weren’t going to find a safe route (let alone a safe return route) and eventually conceded defeat. We decided we’d head up to the summit of Ebbetts Pass and do some exploring instead.

An ancient aspen grove awakes from winter.

As Bob would say:

To be continued…

GPS Data

Elevation Gain: 300 ft

Total distance: 2.52 mi