The transitions we see in the Colorado high country at this time of year mean a lot of different things to a large number of recreationalists. For many, it could be the first spin on newly melted mountain bike trails, the big dry fly hatches on your favorite rivers or the annual dusting off of cobwebs on trail shoes, packs, tents and sleeping bags. For some, it means the sweet transformation of the volatile Colorado snowpack to a strong, consistent layer, ripe for the harvesting of sweet spring and summer corn snow!
With the lean snow year in Colorado (and just about everywhere else except the PacNW), we know our descents would be in April and May this year, not the June and July of normal snow years. At the same time at Mountainsmith, we’re putting the finishing touches on our new for 2013 product and the new Mayhem 35 backpack was in desperate need of a trip to the high country for a ski trip.
We set out from Boulder about 6am and we’re gearing up in the Bear Lake TH parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park by about 7:30. We took off from the car in trail shoes with skis and boots securely lashed, A-frame style, on our packs and made our way up to our destination…a nice long and mellow line from the top of Flattop down to Lake Helene. We took a high traverse above the summer trail and intersected our chosen couloir just about 10, 500′ and Lake Helene. At this point, it was time to switch over to tele boots, crampons and axes and stow away the shoes and trekking pole. The overcast conditions and high winds had the snowpack still holding firm and we make slow and steady progress up about 1500′ feet of continuous snow to the a flat spot just shy of the summit where the altimeter read just about 12,000′. With the winds howling and the snow just getting to perfect consistency, we saved the summit bid for another day and got ready for the payoff.
We leap frogged each other down the pitch taking in the stellar views of Notchtop (and the famous couloir that shares its name), Ptarmigan Glacier and the interesting snow climb and ski lines that still looked fat and the beautiful alpine lakes we approached on the descent.
We hit the summer trail just east of Lake Helene and rolled the dice with leaving the skis on as long as possible…a mix of straight-lining hard packed trails, side stepping obstacles and simply holding on for dear life with the quads burning got us back to within about 1/2 mile of Bear Lake. We lashed the skis back on the packs and stumbled our way down the trail to find a near Disney World level crowd cruising the banks of Bear Lake and taking in a gorgeous spring day in Rocky Mountain National Park. A selection of cold beers and energy drinks were waiting in the car (in a Mountainsmith Take Out Cooler of course) and we reminisced about the day and laid plans for future adventures before the hour or so drive back to Boulder.
A great day in the mountains and solid test for the new Mayhem 35 that didn’t balk under the weight of BD Megawatts and Scarpa T1’s and disappeared on my back once the ski and boots were back on the feet where they belong.
Still some good snow to be had up in the high country…consider waiting one more weekend before getting out the bike, fly rod or trail hikers and get some sweet CO corn!

Good friend of Mountainsmith and Field Service Manager for Smartwool, Darrin Young looks out toward Notchtop with the remains of an elk in the foreground.
Mountainsmith Director of Sales and Marketing, Jay Getzel, sporting the 2013 Mayhem 35 pack.

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