Matt House Photography

September Skiing on Rollins Pass

Looking down at Skyscraper Glacier
First look down at the glacier

Labor Day weekend would mark 12 months of riding snow for me if I could manage to get out. I started the weekend almost freshly unemployed (official last day would be Sept 4) and had no real plan. I just knew I wanted to get in the mountains and do some things. Austin had texted me right on time to ask if I wanted to camp and ski Sunday night and I immediately said yes. At this point I was going to do it alone if I had to but I was extra stoked to have some friends joining.

Driving around Minturn

I spent the first couple days just hanging in Minturn with Spencer and Camille. I didn’t do much. Hiked to a lake on Saturday and just chilled the rest of the time. It was really nice to do nothing in a beautiful area with good people and Teddy got to play with Lucy.

Whitney Lake

Sunday morning I drove back east and met up with Austin and Seth in Winter Park to head up Rollins Pass. I had no idea if we would find camping in the middle of a holiday weekend but we lucked out and found a great little site right near tree line.

Camp at sunset
Camp at sunset

After setting up and eating some snacks we headed the rest of the way up the pass to check out the snow conditions. There was a great run right above King Lake that I lapped 4 times the weekend before (got those August turns in.) But a week of late Summer heat and sun really did a number on it and it seemed way too sketchy now. So we decided to just go for the classic summer ski line where a lot of people go to keep the streak going.

Looking down at King Lake and the disappearing snow field

But first we explored a bit around the pass. There are some old Native American hunting blinds and walls up there that have stood the test of time and give a glimpse into the past. It’s really cool to imagine groups hunting game up there in the summer in such a beautiful setting.

Hunting blind and rock wall
Old cabin foundation with a view. Skyscraper Glacier in the back

Back at camp we made some dinner and enjoyed a great sunset. Getting close to Fall, the temps really drop once the sun goes down so it was nice to have a small campfire to fight the chill. The stars and Milky Way came out and it was nice to just lay down and stare up for a bit. I took zero photos of the night sky for once, opting to just enjoy it.

camp dinner
Some camp dinner
Then I made dinner pancakes
Some great layers. Flattops in the back
Corona Pass Rd. Looking toward Winter Park
From the parking lot looking at Skyscraper.
We skied the snow in the foreground back in early July when it filled the whole bowl

Skyscraper looked fatter than it did the previous year due to all the great snow we got in 2018-2019. The previous season (2017-2018) was among the worst for snowfall and when we went in July 2018 it was not that great. The sun didn’t melt it out enough thanks to a bank of clouds so we rode maybe an inch of sort of soft slush on top of hard ice. This year was almost the opposite. The sun cups and runnels were bigger than last year but the snow was much softer and more manageable. The entry into the glacier was steeper though which made for an exciting first drop.

The hike to the glacier follows the High Lonesome trail north and after almost 2 miles you cut north-east across the tundra to find the entry. The whole hike is relatively easy except for one steep hill above King Lake. It’s really gorgeous up there and I highly recommend hiking that trail even if you’re not skiing anything.

Looking out over King Lake Labor Day morning
King Lake. Nederland and Boulder are actually in the back right.
The Hessie Trailhead is at the end of the valley
Looking South on the High Lonesome.
James Peak on the left. Winter Park ski resort on the right.
Grays and Torreys way back in the center.
Over that hill to the top of the glacier on the other side
Crossing the tundra to get to the glacier
Looking down at Skyscraper Glacier
First look down at the glacier (again)
The steeper section. King Lake and James Peak in the back
Wide angle view of Skyscraper with Bob and Betty Lakes down below
Ready to go I think?
Austin going for it, avoiding that rock band

Austin volunteered to go first and opted for the left entry which required traversing out to avoid a rock band before dropping down the gut of the glacier. Last year we watched a snowboarder lose his edge and bounce off those rocks. Thankfully he was ok but it was terrifying to watch. Austin managed the bumps and skied about halfway down. Then I dropped in the center onto a bench before traversing out and making my way down. Teddy followed me down after a lot of barking and some encouragement from Seth. Managing the huge bumps on a snowboard wasn’t super fun but at least I managed to stay upright this year. Last year as soon as we made heel side turns we would slip out. Seth dropped last and ripped down the middle.

Seth ripping down. Sorry for the vertical video

After regrouping we all made our way to the skiers left side of the glacier around some rocks for some fun turns down toward Bob Lake. Converted back to hiking mode. Boots off, board/skis back on the pack, hiking shoes back on. Cross one snowfield where slipping would mean going for a swim. Then met up with Stu at Bob Lake who was out trail running around and watching us ski down.

We made our way down to Betty Lake to fly fish a little bit. I’ve always wanted to ski down and fish these lakes so I’m stoked these guys wanted to do it too. Seth was the only one that caught anything. All the fish were hanging like 40+ft out in the middle of the lake so it was hard to cast out tiny dry flies to them. Especially with some wind gusts blasting across the lake. Even if we did get hits, there was so much slack in the line it was hard to hook up. Oh well. We got to watch a few other people ski down the glacier while fishing a beautiful lake. No complaints.

We still had about 2ish miles left to hike back to the car and it was unusually warm for September up there. But the views in this area are amazing and worth hiking through. I’m amazed at how pristine it still seems even with the easy access of the road from Winter Park. It was kind of a slog but we eventually made it back up to the parking lot and downed some snacks and water. Back at camp to pack up and then we parted ways driving back down the pass.

Finishing the loop

I decided to head back to Boulder via Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park instead of going back over Berthoud Pass to I-70. Even though it takes longer it’s much more scenic and I was hoping for some late afternoon light. I also lucked out and most of the Labor Day crowds had left already. So the drive was more pleasant than usual and I managed to snag some great shots of various peaks and valleys including Longs. I highly suggest driving this route if you get a chance. It’s only open during Summer and closes any time it snows in Spring/Fall. So take advantage! It’s worth it even when it’s busy.

Headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River in Rocky
Longs Peak

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