Date Skied: 4/11/20
Elevation: 13,203 ft
After seeking refuge in our family’s home in Albuquerque from the crazy mess that was Denver at the moment, I was itching to tackle some peaks that would normally be too long of a drive for me. However, without my partners nearby and the shaming that had recently become the norm for seeking out new partners with the Corona Virus, I would have to dial it back and aim for peaks without avalanche danger. An unsuccessful attempt on Santa Fe’s Nambe Chutes demonstrated to me that it was unlikely anything above treeline would be safe to ski alone if it was in avalanche terrain. After hours of research, I finally landed on Bennett Peak, just a few miles south of Del Norte.
A 3 AM alarm and a much longer drive than anticipated landed me at the trailhead just before 7:30 AM. It was much drier than I had anticipated, and that allowed me to make very quick progress over the first two and a half miles with the skis strapped to my back. After going as far as possible without putting on the ski boots, it was time to transition.
Thankfully, the route was very straightforward, and route finding was almost a non-factor. A quick skin through the trees up the valley led me to an open basin, streaked with 4x4 trails. I took a mental note of this for the summer and quickly moved up to the ridge where the wind picked up considerably.
Off to my left, the north-facing bowls near the summit were steep and very tempting. Thankfully, a massive cornice kept my desires in check, and I was at the foot of the summit cross in what felt like no time. Despite the wind, the temperature was just on the right side of comfortable in the sunlight, and the day views were stunning. Far to the north lay Del Norte, to the northeast towered the Crestone and Kit Carson groups. To the west I could see the rest of the San Juan range that I was in, blanketed in deep snow that would not disappear anytime soon.
A lunch of crackers and Gu gel, then on went the skis. My goal was to ski off the summit. It was tricky, but just doable! I had to flirt with the cornices in order to keep from taking off the skis on the descent. After carefully making my way over a small sub-summit, I was able to open it up a little and do some real skiing. The spring corn was perfect near treeline, but it broke down the minute I ducked into the trees. Even on my skis, I was sinking all the way to the ground, and far ahead, I could see shifting in the snow indicating I had activated the slab. Thankfully, the slope was far too mellow to slide, but it was obvious as to why the avalanche danger was elevated for the afternoons.
Soon, the going became arduous in noon-time sun, sinking anytime I came within a couple of feet of a tree (which was becoming harder and harder to avoid). About a mile and a half from the trailhead, I had to cut my losses and switch back to running shoes. I transitioned out of my skis, strapped them to the pack and hiked the rest of the way out. Once back at the truck, it was time to crack open a celebratory drink and scout some other lines across the San Luis Valley that I was hoping to come back for. After an hour or so of basking in the sunlight, it was time to hop back in the truck for the long drive home. Another adventure checked off the ever-growing list!