Willow Wallow

March 2 2021

Guanella Pass, for a time, was on my top ten list of worst places in Colorado. It still is, but now it resides firmly at the apex of that enumeration. I understand that might upset some folks, especially since it is widely considered to be one of the most scenic byways in the Front Range. All I can say to people with the aforementioned disposition is that you’re wrong and you have terrible taste in highways.

Guanella Pass, in modern times, is likely best known as the gateway to Bierstadt, aka, The People’s Mountain. For those that do not follow this website, and I encourage you not to, Mount Bierstadt is one of the most accessible and climbed 14ers in CO. Now I can look past the sea of tourists that are present on any given summer day at the trailhead. Hell, maybe some of them actually prefer to experience nature in close proximity to hundreds of strangers. I can even forgive the pass for it’s extensive collection of smelly mud bogs. What I absolutely can not capitulate with, is the REDACTED willows.

Yesterday, Diego, his dog Kai, Marcus, and I made an attempt on Gray Wolf Mountain. Conditions this winter in most of CO have been fairly sketchy. More so snow coverage on any given mountain, has at best, been unpredictable. Given the uncertainty in regards to coverage, we made the approach with a melange of gear which included skis/splitboards, mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes and an assortment of other standard backcountry apparatus.

Ultimately we spent the majority of the 9.5 hours we were on the mountain either swimming in chest deep oceans of faceted snow, or fighting willows to forge a path for our skis. We made our lives harder by dropping our flotation devices at 11.5k feet but by the time we’d realized our mistake we were already halfway through the frozen white surf and only had a few more willow-kelp fields to traverse before the snow pack shallowed at ~12k. The summit was largely devoid of snow. Go figure.

Beginning of willow hell.

Willow hell part two, featuring waist deep sugar snow and grown men crawling. Notice the dog waiting for us to break trail.

Summit Pano

Kai on the summit of Gray Wolf Mountain