This was a new ski tour for me that I enjoyed checking out solo in mid March of 2019. I have skied up Horse Creek towards Matterhorn many times, and also up the Blacksmith Creek Drain and Big slide Canyon. I had never noticed from any vantage point that there is one more narrow canyon that leads to the Sawtooth Crest, right above the car and in-between Horse Creek and Blacksmith Creek. Enter Aerial Photography! I have never met Ed Cesnalis of Mammoth, but I very much enjoy looking at his facebook posts of beautiful pictures he takes from his small plane flights. From this one picture you’ll notice in this post, there is a big snow patch beneath the crest on the right, which is above Avalanche Lake. The high obvious notch you’ll likely choose to ski is called Glacier Col. At the top of the col you could climb Cleaver Peak if you know what your doing, but it was way too windy for me to inspect the difficulty. Secor’s PPT guide calls the NE and NW faces of Cleaver Peak to be 3rd class. I would estimate it to be 300′, and not ski boot terrain. I hid from high winds in a small protected sunny spot at the top of the Col with a great view to the west and called that my high point at about 12,500′.
From your car at the Twin Lakes Campground gate, be courteous and quite when you ski through their closed concession campground. Find the bridge in the south end of the campground and start skiing north along Robinson Creek for about 10 minutes before angling up into the steep treed slope on your left. I have crossed a big log that across Robinson Creek at the edge of a big meadow but have recently located the Bridge thankfully. I am not suggesting crossing the bridge on the true south end of the campground, which provides access to the Horse Creek trail and Matterhorn Peak. They are near each other.
When the terrain opens up in Blacksmith Canyon and you reach the base of Mt. Walt, turn left and skin up through even steeper trees along hidden Avalanche Creek to Avalanche Lake. I took a detour out left following some tracks I was curious about, and found a really nice spot to view the entire area as you see in my pictures. These snowboarders skinned out to this point above the campground meadow for a fairly steep and fun NE descent back to the car. This detour was only about 10 minutes from Avalanche Creek and was worth the view for intel. On return I easily traversed without missing any good turns and found this point again above the campground meadow and highly recommend skiing back this way, rather than through the tight trees you approached through. But you can still glide all the way back to the campground along your ascent path if you just traverse right and south before accidentally reaching the Big Slide Canyon valley floor.
The terrain above Avalanche Lake is quite intimidating from a snow stability perspective. Since I was alone skiing less than a week after new snowfall, I skinned up along a ridge to avoid testing the slopes above the lake. This got a bit hairball but nothing ski crampons couldn’t solve. Going back again I might skin up the gully from Avalanche Lake to the Glacier. That tracks up your path back however, and we don’t want to be crossing tracks out there now…..
I skinned most of the way up Glacier Col with ski crampons in maybe 8″ ski penetration, and booted the rest easily without boot crampons, holding skis in my hands. It was between 35 and 38 degrees for a few hundred feet by my guess in Glacier Col. I didn’t notice much of a Bergstrom in my path up to the top of the col. I have read about Cleaver Notch above Avalanche Lake, where you can cross back into Horse Creek Drainage from Avalanche Glacier. (I’m not sure it’s officially called Avalanche Glacier). I’ll at least go look through that Cleaver Notch passage way next time I go up there. I did not see enough snow to ski down the west side of Glacier Col and it was a bit steep for ski boots. That might provide a really cool loop and is worth looking into.
If you just tour up to Glacier Lake, you will be psyched. This is unreal beautiful terrain right above your car with likely no tracks. I’ll go up there in the summer as well, assuming there is a user created trail of some sort. There is no trail on the map but there might be a faint user created trail.
This ski tour is likely to be all yours. Blacksmith Canyon sees a few people each week In ski touring season at best. Heading up to Glacier Col might get done a few times each winter? I’ve never heard of anyone going up there and didn’t even know about it oddly. Understandably most people are after Matterhorn Peak, Crater Crest, or skiing one of the couloirs in Little Slide Canyon just to gawk at the Hulk Rock Climbs. After you ski those, you’ll probably ski Monument Peak, Mt. Walt, maybe Twin Peaks or Eocene. And then there is the huge South-ish slopes of Victoria and Hunewill Peak looming above Big Slide Canyon. And there are many more worthy ski touring objectives in the Sawtooths. Well now add this one to your tick list for north facing terrain that you can track up all by yourself! Upload a few pics and tell us how it went for you below.