McClure Pass - Chapter2


Chapter 2 McClure Pass & Huntsman Ridge

Colorado Highway 133 reaches its apex at McClure Pass, a forested divide separating the Crystal River Valley from a vast backcountry area known as Grand Mesa. While the Chair Mountain area south of the pass is somewhat restricted because of private land, a classic Colorado massif known as Huntsman Ridge provides a huge playground north of McClure Pass. Huntsman is a "Jeckle and Hyde" area: the upper sections of most gulches dropping off the ridge often provide reliable glisse, but the same runs often neck into dangerous narrow ravines blocked by waterfalls and cliffs. Thus, most skiing is done by enjoying the safer upper parts of the gulches, then climbing back up to the ridge. For maximum vertical, ski such a route several times after you've broken your trail back up the hill. Only ski the steeper of these runs during low avalanche hazard, since most avalanches will carry you into unsurvivable terrain traps. During unusually heavy snow years, runs can be made down to the highway during low avalanche hazard. Carry a rope for such runs, since the lower ravines waterfall over numerous cliff bands.

Roads and Trailheads

USGS Maps: Placita, Redstone USFS maps: Gunnison NF, White River NF

McClure Pass Trailhead, Huntsman Ridge Trailhead

From the town of Carbondale on Highway 82, drive south 24.5 miles on Highway 133 to the summit of McClure Pass (8,750 feet). Park in an obvious plowed area on the south side of the road. A rude sign at the parking area states: "BACKCOUNTRY SKIERS BEWARE, BLASTING AT ANY TIME." Disregard this warning for the routes on Huntsman Ridge described here. The Huntsman Ridge Trailhead (8,680 feet) is a few hundred yards down the highway east from the pass. Park here if the road has been plowed wide for parking; otherwise, park at the pass and walk the pavement back to the actual start of the trail. Parking within 10 feet of the pavement will get your car towed.

Route 2.1.1 Huntsman Ridge from McClure Pass

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: Intermediate, S2- Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter and early spring Starting elevation: 8,680 feet Summit elevation: 10,003 feet Elevation gain: 1,323 feet Round trip distance: 2 ½ miles Day trip? Yes Map: Huntsman East Photo: [none]

This access trail opens up the vast terrain north of McClure Pass as defined by Huntsman Ridge. It's a good trail for less experienced skiers and climbs through aspen glades that can provide good Intermediate or Novice rated downhill given good snow conditions. Crusty snow is common, however, on these south facing slopes. Drive Highway 133 to parking at McClure Pass and start your tour at Huntsman Ridge Trailhead (see section introduction). Follow the snowcovered jeep trail for about one mile N, then take a direct route NE to the crest of Huntsman Ridge near the ridge's farthest east endpoint known as Bears Point (11,003 feet). For the best views, ski the ridge to Bears Point. For safe and easy skiing and snowboarding, descend glades you eyed on the ascent. Experienced glisse alpinists can enjoy slopes on the northerly aspects of the ridge (see other routes in this section).

Route 2.1.2 Bears Gulch glisse from Huntsman Ridge

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: Advanced, S3 Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter and early spring Starting elevation: 8,680 feet Summit elevation: 10,003 feet Elevation gain: Varies with chosen descent Round trip distance: 3 miles or more; varies with choice of routes Day trip? Yes Map: Huntsman East Photo: [none] Bears Gulch skiing and riding is contained in the small cirques formed by the east endpoint of Huntsman Ridge (known as Bears Point, 10,003 feet) and the section of ridge northwest to Hayes Peak and north to Hayes Point (10,081 feet). Various types of terrain-open avalanche slopes to densely timbered tree skiing-allow a variety of descents. The following list of runs starts from Bears Point and works westerly:

Boyfriend Ridge (S3) leads south above a corniced bowl and takes you to a broad open rib which can be a good corn snow run in early spring. It's best to re-skin at about 9,000 feet on this route, but skiing down to the highway is possible during late season in heavy winters.

Girlfriend Glade (S3-) is a secret stash you reach by glissing directly down the east ridge from Bears Point, then staying left. The most you'll get out of this is about 900 vertical feet before steeper and more vegetation-choked terrain blocks your passage. Girlfriend Glade is a lower-angled, more avalanche-safe alternative to skiing the steeper north-facing gulches.

Riley 1 (S4) offers the steepest and most technical tree skiing on Huntsman Ridge. To enter Riley 1, head down the ridge east from Bears Point a few hundred feet, then swing north.. Stay skier's left out of the drainage gut and work the fall line. Re-skin after about 1,100 vertical feet of glisse. Riley 1 is the drainage east of Riley 2 and 3.

For Riley 2 (S3+), a steep but more avalanche-safe alternative, head west from Bears Point about 100 feet and ski the north fall-line through improbable dark timber.

Riley 3 (S3) is the most obvious line off the ridge. It descends a timbered area just east of Bears Saddle (9,900 feet), the major saddle between Bears Point and Hayes Peak. Riley 2 and 3 end up in the same mini-drainage.

Riley Bowl (S3+) is a sparsely-timbered area that starts at Bears Saddle and covers the area west and northwest to Hayes Ridge (S3, the east ridge of Hayes Peak). Most of Riley Bowl is full-on avalanche terrain, and all but the smallest slides end in terrain traps. Hayes Ridge is the conservative way to enjoy this area, but snow on Hayes Ridge may be wind-damaged or sun-crusted.

Elk Bowl (S3 to S3+) is a more easterly and southerly mini-cirque below the ridge between Hayes Peak and Hayes Point.

You can do numerous variations on the lines described above, and interesting glisse can be had by dropping into the Hayes Creek drainage north of Hayes Peak and Hayes Point. On all routes in this area, beware of lower-angled terrain leading you into steeper and more technical areas (S4+). If you'd like to explore the nether regions of Hayes Creek and Bears Creek, bring a rope. In 1997, you could not get a cell phone connection from Bears Point. A connection may be possible from Hayes Peak.

Route 2.1.3 Huntsman Mountain from McClure Pass

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: Advanced, S3+ Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter and early spring Starting elevation: 8,680 feet Summit elevation: 11,786 feet Elevation gain: Approximately 4,500 feet Round trip distance: 14 miles Day trip? Yes (long) Maps: Huntsman East, Huntsman West Photo: [none]

If an orienteering challenge and scenic high route are your agenda, consider traversing Huntsman Mountain. You'll wind through dark spruce forests, flirt with splendid views of the Ragged Peaks and Elk Mountains, and scale a high point lording over the vast reaches of Grand Mesa.

Traverse fanatics can start a superb route at either Middle Thompson Creek southwest of Carbondale or McClure Pass. Staying with the highline defined by Huntsman Ridge and Mountain, such a trip would take several days and cover about 35 miles. Starting from the north end of the route via a snowmobile dropoff would probably be the best bet. A less committing trip climbs Huntsman Mountain via Huntsman Ridge from McClure Pass, then returns via the ascent route. This can be done as an overnight or super-long day and is the route specified here.

Start from the Huntsman Ridge Trailhead, and follow route 2.1.1 to Huntsman Ridge. With careful use of your map, compass and altimeter, stay near the crest of the ridge and head W to Huntsman Mountain. The orienteering challenge is to avoid excess vertical by traversing around numerous lower summits on your way to the big goal. Dense timber and confusing terrain add to the fun. Return via your ascent route. This is one of the few routes in this book where a GPS is more than an extra gadget to carry.

Route 2.1.4 Chair Mountain Road (# 898)

Climb rating: Easier nordic wax or skins Ski rating: Novice, S0 Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 8,750 feet Summit elevation: 9,400 feet Elevation gain: 650 feet Round trip distance: 5 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Huntsman East Photo: [in collection]

While technically a route in the Ragged Mountains (chapter 3), this mellow tour leaves from McClure Pass (see Introduction) and is thus included in this chapter. Drive to the main parking area on the south side of the road at the summit of McClure Pass. The route follows a snowmobile/ski track leaving from the east side of the parking area on an obvious roadcut. The start of the trail is sometimes obscured by a large plow bank. Follow the road 2 ½ miles to a private property gate. Return via the road. While you won't find much in the way of downhill turn terrain in this area, you can enjoy many options for peaceful walks in the woods once you step off the road.