Red Peak: Big Bad Wolf

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The photos above show the Red Peak massif from Willow Lakes, with the summit at the right and Big Bad Wolf descending from near the summit. The first shot was from June 20, 2004; the second on June 10, 2008. The shot below shows the same line; it was taken from the summit of East East Red on May 29, 2006. All photos show clearly the two possible routes one can take on the lower half.

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One more time: Elke Dratch, Kim McGranahan, and I skied this on June 10, 2008. 10 hours total; 5.5 hours for the climb; lots of snow, perfect booting conditions, never used skins. The couloir was fat with snow but the new snow atop a firm base made for tricky conditions given the steepness. To exit we stayed in snow as much as possible, following the south side of the valley and eventually crossing N Willow Creek and picking up the Gore Trail. For me the line was a little too steep for comfort. I have never measured it, but it is surely 45 here and there. Remember, it gets steeper as you descend. But the exit valley and summit views were as beautiful as ever. Some pics from 2008:

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A view of Red Diamond Ridge connecting East Red and Red.

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Elke in the middle of the chute.

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Kim near the bottom

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The grrls are happy with their day.

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Elke and the view down-valley to the many lakes. Four days after our trip, Jonathan Kriegel and Chet Roe did the same route and reported perfect corn.

More news: Tried this yet again on June 13, 2006 with Katie Larson and Elke Dratch. But part of the upper portion was dry and the other part, which did lead to a continuous line, was too mushy. This was a day of record heat. So we just skied the south face to Red Buffalo Pass, and returned home. A pleasant enough day, but we will have to return when conditions are better.

The latest news on this strange little line: June 8, 2005: Jonathan Kriegel and I started at 5:30 and summitted Red 5.2 hours later. The climb was fine: sneakers for most of the way, and then boots (me) or skins (JK) to the top. Jonathan skinned all the way to the true summit. For more on the ascent, see the South Face description. From the summit the views were super: lots of snow, and of course the view across to the Deming Drop is always inspiring (though there appeared to be a little debris in that one too).

Well, the descent down the south face would have been marvelous, but we jumped into Big Bad Wolf, my name for the north-side couloir. It was fine at the top, but as we descended it became mushier and we could see big avalanche debris at the bottom. About halfway down we crossed to skier's right to try the eastern branch. We got down, but it really wasn't very good. Jonathan managed to turn but I skittered down most it. So this was a little disappointing, but we did ski it. The long walk out wasn't too bad, as we could ski far down the valley. To my surprise we saw tracks (solo skier we think) in the very nice line off of East East Red that I call Little Red Riding Hood. That looked in very good condition (i.e., no debris). It is easily seen from the highway north of Silverthorne.

On the more upbeat side, there is an interesting Triple Crown here: the north couloirs from the true summits of the trio of peaks: Buffalo, Deming, and Red. But this one does not appear to have the quality of the other two, though it is a true couloir, steep and interesting and probably a blast if conditions are good.

Older news:

On June 20, 2004, I headed alone to the summit of Red Peak, behind my house, with boots in the pack and skis strapped to the outside. The ascent went very well, as I summitted in 4.5 hours in excellent weather. My goal was to descend into the spectacular Willow Lakes Valley by a couloir that departs NE right from the true summit. Two years ago Todd Eastman and I went about 200 feet down, but decided against continuing and returned to the easy south side of Red, which offers good skiing. On this day the line looked good and I could ski right from the summit, so I cruised down about 50 vertical from the summit on the south side and dropped in. In the photo, the summit is the rightmost peak, and the drop-in spot is where the central branch goes right to the ridge. One could also drop in farther down-ridge.

Well, once in, it started to appear steeper and steeper. Indeed, this couloir does get steeper the lower one gets, unlike so many others for which the reverse is true. The problem was the slush. Because of the NE exposure, the warm day, and perhaps the rain of the past few days, the slush level was high and I often cut decent amounts of wet snow with my skis. I was not feeling terribly happy and at one point I slipped and did not stop in the moving slush as instantaneously as I would have liked. It seemed clear that there was potential for a chain reaction in the moving slush, though it is hard to be certain. Sometimes one can ski moving slush pretty well. But being alone I could not take a chance. So I took off the skis, as booting down the steep section seemed safer. Finally I could get my skis on again and do a few turns without fear. Looking back I noticed that the route splits about halfway down and I was in the steeper skiers' left side. But I have to say that this is a remarkable line, fully comparable to the nearby couloirs on Buffalo and Deming, but starting from a higher summit (13150) and ending in a gorgeous alpine valley. Well, I did descend the route, but I cannot call it a ski descent. Big Bad Wolf is my choice of name.

The walk out to the Willowbrook trailhead was fine: all downhill, and I cadged a ride to my house from a policewoman out for a hike. On the way down I got a good look at the Great Straight Unskied Couloir (a good name for this is "What Big Eyes You Have"; see Little Red Riding Hood entry) on East East Red. At least I think it is unskied. It is very straight, very narrow, and presumably very steep. I also got a nice look at an easier line from East East Red that I had skied a few years ago (Little Red Riding Hood) that still had continuous snow. The Deming Drop also had continuous snow, but the slush factor might play a role on all of these this late in the season.

Anyone wanting to try Big Bad Wolf must decide whether to go in by Willow Lakes and climb the ski route or do it as I did it. For the former, camping out is probably wise, given the NE exposure. And a little earlier in the season, skins might be useful in the valley. For the latter, one would want to have the ascent of Red wired (this was my tenth ascent of this peak). Once into the flat Red Buffalo Valley well above the waterfall, wait until you can see the summit of Red. Then head for it. To be more precise, there are two wide avalanche paths on the N side of the good trail in the direction of the summit. Both work, but I think it is better to stay on the trail to the second one, and then start climbing the grassy slopes to the high benches. There are three entrances to the couloir: a very steep one (that is probably not continuous snow from the summit), a steep one, and a less steep one. The last two should be continuous snow from the summit.

So, this was a good exploratory day, I did a few turns, and I am happy to be home in one piece.

Update: JT Kress reports having climbed Big Bad Wolf when it was snow-free and that it was a terrifying shooting gallery of loose rock.

Aside: The rocky ridgeline in the top photo is Red Diamond Ridge, which provides a sporting route from East Red to Red. I have done it four times, with a rope each time, but once one knows the exact way it can be done ropeless, as Bob Salazar proved in 2002.

And once more: With John Jaycox on July 4, 2011. Conditions were quite good. 5.5 hours to top, 10.5 hours total. Amazing snow coverage in the upper valleys for this time of year.

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John Jaycox in the lower half:

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An iceberg:

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The Zodiac Spires:

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