Backcountry Skiing in Colorado

Skiing and Hiking in the Colorado Backcountry

Sayres Benchmark (13,738′)

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Chris is but a small dot against the sprawling backdrop that is Sayres Benchmark

I first laid eyes on the aesthetically pleasing north face of Sayres Benchmark when Eric and I skied La Plata back in 2012.  I was awe-struck by all the options and didn’t even know what peak I was seeing at the time.  6 years later, Chris and I were deliberating on a worthy spring descent target and the face of Sayres popped into my mind.  After a little google earth and I figured out what I had been looking at all those years ago –  Sayres Benchmark.

Now, though the name might be a little lame, I assure you this peak is  not.  The ascent route follows La Plata’s main route.  Once you crest the trees, Sayres will be staring you right in the face, and the rest of the route is pretty obvious.


Cresting treeline, Sayres comes into view


Snow Hare

Although the route may be obvious, it’s not easy.  Skinning through the trees presented its own challenges.  Not wanting to get stuck in the willows we had read about, Chris and I gained a lot of elevation, only to have to descend towards the creek after getting pinned on some rocks.  The best bet would have been to simply follow the creek all the way to tree-line, then make a direct approach to the North Face.

Still, we regained some energy after cresting, and we skinned straight towards the apron on Sayres north face.  Being that this was our first true summit of the season, we were a bit unprepared for the sheer length of the ascent.  Our initial target was the X-Rated Couloir that drops dramatically from the summit of Sayres’ North Face.  After transitioning into crampons, we decided to climb the mellower Grand Central Couloir, since we weren’t quite sure what the snow conditions would be like.  Although less steep, this approach was long.  It took us longer to summit than we had anticipated and we were both pretty tired once reaching the top.


Chris makes his way up Grand Central


Chris approaches the summit of Sayres Benchmark

The views and weather on the summit were spectacular but we didn’t spend much time.  After scoping X-Rated, we decided to take our ascent route back  down.  We were fatigued and X-rated was a much more committing line.  The snow on the way up was also extremely variable and we didn’t want to take the risk.  After a few turns into the descent we were grateful we made this decision.  The snow was challenging.  We encountered everything from sheer ice, to breakable crust, to powder, corn, slush and hard pack.  As soon as you’d dig into a powder turn it would turn to ice and you’d wash out.  Or if you thought you’d hit corn, your ski would soon submarine under the breakable crust.   The descent – usually the easy part – took all we had left.  Once down we prepared for the slog out.

We were able to ski quite a ways down, picking our way through the trees along the creek bed.  Eventually we got to the first creek crossing and soon after we lost the trail.  After meandering for a while, up and down Lake Creek we eventually decided to forge the river towards a cabin we saw on the other side.  We figured where there’s a cabin, there’s a driveway, and where there’s a driveway there’s HWY 82.  After s refreshing river crossing, we hit the driveway and not long after we were booting down HWY 82 towards the La Plata trailhead.

Although this trip presented its challenges, looking back it was still a great trip with a very good friend.  And hey, we still got a summit and a ski in.  How bad could that be?

Until next time… keep rippin’!

Author: Collin Tilbe

I'm a Husband and a father. I love food, travel and fitness. My mission in life is "To be free to live life on my terms, while providing value and to kindness to others."

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