“Where’d y’all come down from?” the man asked, his incredibly large Ford truck shining under partly cloudy skies.
“Potosi Peak” I replied, nervous that someone with Texas license plates had driven this far past the road closure, all the way to the Yankee Boy Basin trailhead. We were on foot with skis strapped to our backs hoofing it back to our car at the road closure.
“Potosi Peak? Are you OK? Did you hurt yourself?” he inquired. I asked him to repeat his questions, unsure if I heard him correctly over the sound of his idling diesel engine.
“Yeah, we’re fine” I replied. We were actually more than fine. The North Couloir was one of the best descents TJ and I have had this season, if not one of the best descents of our lives. “Do you know the mountain? Potosi Peak?”
“I own the mountain,” he said, and my heart sank.
Oh geeze, I thought, we’re going to jail.
Long before the man in the truck arrived, TJ David and I had been trying to ski something in the San Juans for a month or so. We knew each other from the glory days of the Freeskiing World Tour, after which TJ had taken the path of becoming a professional skier and incredibly good photographer, and I had taken the path of moving to Kazakhstan and getting as far away from the ski industry as possible. We bumped into each other at the Corbeaux Clothing booth at SIA back in January, and kept in touch about ski mountaineering in the spring.
The stars aligned in April, and we set our sights on the relatively obscure North Couloir of Potosi Peak. This slice of heaven involved getting to Yankee Boy Basin, ascending the ridge between Teakettle Mountain and Potosi Peak, dropping in to the Weehawken Creek Basin, ascending the North Couloir to the summit, skiing back down, and then going back over the ridge into Yankee Boy Basin. If that was not enough of a challenge, we decided to do it before May 1st, adding an extra 1,000 feet of climbing and a few miles of approach beyond the winter road closure outside of the town of Ouray. A big day, but when you’re anxious for good snow and beautiful descents, it’s worth it.
A good freeze the night before meant we alternated between bootpacking and touring up the icy ascent out of Yankee Boy Basin, but the soft turns dropping into Weehawken Creek Basin were a good sign. We pushed on in good spirits up the couloir as the weather went from “mostly cloudy” to “partly cloudy.”
At the summit, almost all the clouds cleared and we could see the Eolus Peaks near Durango, the Wilson Group above Telluride, and the Uncompaghre Range near Lake City. The West Elks near Crested Butte loomed further in the distance. TJ’s guidebook was right, this was a pretty amazing summit that photos can hardly give justice to.
After soaking up the views, we dropped into the couloir, snapping photos as the clouds cleared even more. The top was pretty steep and sharp rocks loomed under the snow pack, but eventually it opened up into a wonderfully long apron with boot-deep powder on firm snow. In other words, as good as it gets in Colorado’s alpine terrain, which TJ documented via GoPro.
Smiling ear to ear after the descent, we transitioned back into climbing mode and made quick work of the ascent into Yankee Boy basin. TJ clocked us at just under 6,000 vertical feet of climbing on the day, which my legs were definitely in agreement with. We skied the ripe corn on the south facing slope back to the trail head, gave each other high fives and put on our approach shoes, just as a large truck with Texas plates pulled up.
Long story short, we didn’t go to jail. In fact, the owner of Potosi Peak gave us a ride back to the road closure, quite happy we didn’t hurt ourselves and really not sure of what to do about his new property (he acquired the mountain in September, 2015, along with the Ruby Mine). He chief concern is that someone could hurt themselves on the mountain and file a lawsuit against him.
I told him that the property liability laws of Colorado are probably different than in Texas (note: I’m not a lawyer), but he still wants to make sure he gets his legal affairs in line before letting people on the mountain. He will most likely put up “No Trespassing” signs along the road before the winter closure gate opens on May 1st, when backcountry travelers go there en masse. And to be honest, I don’t blame him for being cautious of lawsuits, and just hope travelers in the area are as understanding of his wishes.
Signs are removed more easily than fences, and cooperation is better than confrontation.
So, until further notice, please don’t attempt to climb Potosi Peak without his permission, and if you do, please don’t get hurt. That way, ideally, the new owner of the mountain will allow people to climb it in the near future, and TJ and I won’t be the last skiers of Potosi Peak.