On and around Mt. Bellview (12520′)
Spring continues in fits and starts. Early last week, with restless legs and a vague plan in mind, I set out on a tour to investigate Mounts Baldy and Bellview for a possible link-up. Both peaks dominate the East River valley past Gothic, and seemed like nice things to ski.
After heading several miles upvalley, I climbed up the timbered saddle between Gothic and Baldy and emerged onto a long alpine ridge, granting me a view of Baldy’s upper reaches. Huge cornices loomed like misaligned molars above face I had hoped to ski, extending the entire length of the summit ridge.
Leaving the bowl I re-entered the forest through scattered stands of the most impressively large trees I can remember seeing Colorado. I followed a drainage from a neighboring slope, trying to dance from patch to patch of hard snow in a sea of treacherous breakable crust. The trees tightened, and it was a decidedly schwacky descent until I burst out into brilliant sunlight in the valley below.
From there, I traversed up the shoulder of Bellview (now adjacent to me across the river). About 1500 feet below the summit, with the sun rapidly warming its south-facing slopes, I decided it was time to turn back and limit my exposure to wet slides. By this point, sun-exposed aspects had transitioned to corn, and the descent was fun and fast. Perhaps even better, the valley floor was still frozen, and I was able to quickly skate on crust the several miles home.
A few days later, I headed out the door with the goal of climbing Mt. Bellview in earnest. The dust layer was again exposed after 40 hours of sun, giving the snow the texture of sandpaper and precluding much in the way of glide. The sky too was less than ideal, threatening rain, but I’ve learned to be more afraid of the days that scare you into staying in the cabin with weather that then fails to materialize, so I went anyway.
Reaching the base of the mountain after a 45 minute approach, I climbed the ridge I had explored the previous day, and then set across the bowl to the base of the most direct line from the summit. There, I shouldered my skis and booted up what could very loosely be described as a chute between a handful of rocky fins to gain the ridge. Climbing was slow, on bulletproof snow, and I found myself wishing for crampons as the pitch grew steeper. But after 1000 or so feet I crested over to a view of the Maroon Bells and the vast basin beyond, and walked up the final pitch to the summit.
The sky had grown dark during the climb, and clouds were rolling in and out above 12,000 feet, spitting snow and limiting visibility. Still unsure of what the day’s weather had in store, I decided not to linger, dropping in to a second broad “chute” directly below the summit.
The skiing was poor, as the snow had failed to soften, and so I made steep, cautious, and chattery turns back down to the floor of the bowl. From there, better conditions prevailed, and I cruised down to the valley. At this lower elevation, things had grown sloppy in my absence, and the trip back to the cabin grew ever slower.
As a final treat, a very bold fox and I shared the road for a few moments, obliging me with a quick photo before trotting on to do whatever foxes do.
He was halfway between winter and summer coats.