It was fitting that we climbed Rain Peak on a rainy weekend around the state and skied its Graupel Gully while being pelted with graupel from the stormy skies above.
Rain is an elusive 13er in the Gores that is actually more difficult to see from roads/highways as well as from other Gore summits. Its shape doesn’t stand out as say Mt. Valhalla, Peak Q, or even Mt. Powell. Rain sort of blends into the connecting ridge with the Silverthorne massif and Mt. Silverthorne. Nevertheless, Rain has all the makings of a classic Gore peak – a lengthy approach, a class 3/4 west ridge to its summit, a near vertical west face, a very steep north face, and some interesting ski lines on its southeast face with the prominent couloir from the summit dubbed the Graupel Gully. The weakness in attaining Rain’s summit is its east ridge and while mellow, it sure is indeed lengthy. I think we estimated the total stats for the day were about 15 miles and 4,500′ roundtrip from the Willowbrook trailhead in Silverthorne. Brian Miller was already planning on Rain for Saturday with his buddy Marc Barella as the weather window for the entire weekend looked to be Saturday morning up until about mid-day. Then, the snow squalls would start with hopefully nothing heavy until Saturday evening. I had never met Marc before (though we traded a few emails about he and Carl’s trip to Mont Blanc), but it was great to spend the day with him in the Gores and I would think this day would be great training for his upcoming trip to Denali. Plus, Marc had just finished snowboarding all the the 14ers, which is a heck of an accomplishment, but it was about time he get on some 13ers. Ben Conners & Rick Thompson switched their plans for skiing Cathedral Peak near Aspen to Rain (weather in the Elks looked to be even worse than the Gores) and J and I jumped on board to round out the team of six. Even in less than ideal weather, I’d rather be in the Gores than anywhere else and with all of us having never climbed Rain Peak before (except for Brian), we were excited to see what adventure we could get ourselves into.
We all got to the Willowbrook trailhead at around 6:45am and were booting up the North Willow Creek trail, which had a few fresh inches of snow, at around 7am. After about 30 minutes, we slapped the skins and skin on as the snow appeared to be consistent enough to warrant not carrying our skis anymore. Now the skinning wasn’t exactly easy. We were taking turns breaking trail in very heavy, sloppy snow that globbed onto the bottom of our skins every chance it got. The heavy snow was definitely taxing on my quads. Add to that we lost the trail for a long while and some interesting skinning ensued around, over, and through deadfall, side hilling over rocks and tree trunks, and about every other kind of obstacle you can imagine in the woods. It took awhile. We finally found a trail of sorts that led up to the east ridge and took it. From the east ridge (though still in the trees), we knew if we stayed on the ridge crest we would eventually break out of treeline and be on Rain Peak’s east ridge proper. We could actually make out Rain Peak in the distance through the trees, which definitely helped to keep us motivated.
It was hours upon hours of breaking trail in the freshly fallen wet snow below treeline, but we finally got the views we came for as we crested treeline. Across the valley to the south was the absolutely stunning What Big Eyes You Have Couloir off of East East Red Peak which Ben & Brian had skied a year prior and was featured as one of their fifty class ski lines in their awesome book Climbing and Skiing Colorado’s Mountain: 50 Select Ski Descents.
It was great to see such a stellar line up close and personal, though it was a bit intimidating. It looked steep, but then again everything does head-on. The weather was really holding for us and the sun was out. We continued the long skin up, up, and away.
We could feel Rain getting closer and closer though we still had maybe 1,500′ and 2 miles to go to its summit.
It was getting closer to noon and the good weather window was starting to collapse.
We finally crested Rain’s summit ridge and made a beeline for its summit trying to beat the incoming snow squalls and wind.
We topped out around 1pm in cold and windy weather with a bit of snow. Thankfully, the visibility was still decent and the actual air temperature wasn’t too cold. Rain Peak seemed to have two distinct high points and the southern point seemed to be higher. Everyone then proceeded to scramble over to the southern summit except for Brian. He seemed to know better.
When we arrived at the southern summit and looked back at Brian he definitely seemed higher than us on the north summit. Yep, he definitely knew better. I’m sure he was saying in his head, “Bunch of silly gapers I’m with here”. So, we scrambled back to the north summit, enjoyed the views in deteriorating weather, and shot some pics.
We then stripped the skins, stepped into our respective ski/board setups, and got out of there. There were a few gullies to choose from, and while the easternmost gully looked mighty fine for a ski, we all descended the steepest gully right off the summit cap. This gully was probably the Graupel Gully anyway, so I’m glad we skied the steeper line. Brian & I skied down a bit to take pics of the others.
As far as the snow was concerned, well it could have been worse and it could have been better. There was probably close to a foot of fresh powder in the gully and the sun all morning had warmed up the top inch or so. With the incoming weather and clouds, that same top layer had solidified making for some interesting slab skiing. It would have almost been better had the sun not come out at all the entire morning. Then, at least maybe there would have not been that top slab above 6-8″ of powder. The rest of the fellas seemed to blow through this slab seemingly effortlessly, while me and my teles got pushed around quite a bit. It was tough skiing for me. I hate having to resort to alpine turns, but I certainly had to in order to not fall on the relatively steep terrain much less break my leg. We also had to be a bit careful with regards to avalanche conditions as that top slab was moving a bit. Nevertheless, it was an awesome setting and the weather got better as we descended. Because we were skiing the Graupel Gully, we almost didn’t mind that it was graupelling on us the entire way down. Some ski shots:
We eventually made it down to the frozen Salmon Lake at the base of East Thorn, had something to eat and drink, and regrouped.
Our plan was to essentially ski out North Willow Creek down from Salmon Lake back to the trailhead. Ben & Brian had essentially done this from maybe a mile down from Salmon Lake after skiing Big Eyes Couloir last year and said it worked out pretty well with only a few sections of uphill. Brian certainly made it easy for the rest of us plowing the way in the wet sticky snow. I can say now I trust Mr. Miller’s navigational expertise in the woods. J and I were dreading the ski out in the North Willow Creek drainage, but it actually ended up being more downhill than we thought. Brian did a stellar job of getting us back to the North Willow Creek trail from which we began to hike down in our ski boots once again for the last 45 minutes finally arriving back at the Willowbrook trailhead around 4:15pm.
Despite the not so awesome weather and snow conditions for skiing, it was a great day out in the Gores with a truly solid group of guys. I think we were all a bit beat after this one and sleeping in Sunday and drinking coffee until noon definitely felt good.