Adventure of the Week: In hot pursuit of pow on Hahn’s Peak |

Adventure of the Week: In hot pursuit of pow on Hahn’s Peak

Approaching the summit of Hahn's Peak in pursuit of pow (and Girafficorns).
Laraine Martin

The Avalanche Information Center advises against venturing into those mountains at all elevations (Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, Hahn’s Peak area, Never Summer Range and the vicinity of Cameron Pass) where avalanche conditions are currently listed as “very dangerous.”

For more info read: Eyewitness report of numerous avalanche paths in North Routt  

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS –Fear, it’s such a pesky thing.

It can stop us dead in our tracks. Lingering. Stubborn to dismiss or detach from, it’s there even at a subconscious, nearly undetectable level.

Oddly enough, the juxtaposition of fear can motivate us beyond the confines of those comfortable limitations we’ve established: the same areas you ski, the same morning commute to work.

However brief, however quiet it may be, that little voice, it’s persistent. And presents itself at times least expected.

My two girlfriends, Laraine Martin and Alice Tesar, and I parked the car as golden flecks of the morning sunrise glimmered over the surrounding vistas near Hahn’s Peak.

Snow is a distant memory, albeit more than what was seen in town. It’s on each of our minds as we prepare for our hike up the narrow, snow-kissed road. Groggily we don our skins to skis, battle our boots to buckle and down the last bit of warm coffee.

We were in hot pursuit of this thing a few locals know well — pow.

Anxious and equally ambitious, the top of Hahn’s Peak was our destination and nothing was going to stop us – even if it meant strapping our skis to our packs, climbing on rocks, postholing or annihilating our skis.

Taking in the chilling breaths of morning air, the three of us began our ascent, a blur of brightly colored jackets contrasted to the patches of white.

The pyramid-like peak juts into the sky towering above North Routt. Hahn’s Peak is one of the area’s iconic hikes in the summertime. Its resume is robust: An active volcano ages ago and gold found on its slopes, which brought Joseph Hahn to the area in 1862.

According to its history via Historic Routt County, Hahn – who the town and peak are named after – helped to establish a larger operation by 1866. But due to a lack of supplies and harsh winters, men started abandoning camp. Attempting to hike out of the area in 1867 Hahn died, but left a legacy behind. Others soon arrived at the abandoned camp and discovered gold in the area, triggering another gold rush.

Seeing Hahn’s Peak in the background of many outdoor pursuits, I couldn’t help but add it to my bucket list.

In the summer, I distinctly remember the trail’s steep sections before the exposed summit and the final stretch of the hike precariously laden with loose rock.

I had no idea what to expect in the winter. Breaking trail? Loose rocks? Steep climbs? The mere idea of it was enticing enough.

Once we arrived at the base of the talus field, so close to the summit, a flurry of inexplicable emotions (Relief? Exhaustion? Nerves? Maybe a bit dehydrated?) arose with the panorama of uninterrupted peaks ranging from Steamboat Ski Area, Sand Mountain, Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area to the east and Wyoming to the north.

But then, the fear started to set in.

The fear of failure. The fear of falling. The fear that I might not be good enough to ski down the face of that rather steep-looking slope.

Whether irrational or rational, fear is inhibiting. But sometimes, it takes trusting what you know and quite simply, putting one foot in front of the other.

It was time to make the decision to skin up it and ski down, or boot pack up it with skis strapped on our packs to ski down or boot pack up and down — we chose the latter.

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned exploring the outdoors is that no one has the ability to conquer fear but yourself. Flex that mental fortitude, because it’s just as important as physical ability.

It takes a level of knowledge and commitment.

Nothing we attempt is ever certain. We had hoped for snow based on beta gathered from others who had skied there recently. However, we faced the reality of the matter — a lack of snow and sneaky rocks causing jolted bouts of surprise and a few scathes on the bottom of our skis.

Please know, I am by no means an expert on backcountry skiing. And I am not advising you to grab your gear and go hike up Hahn’s Peak tomorrow to ski off whichever face tickles your fancy – especially with the recent warning of dangerous conditions that exist currently at all elevations and the sighting of an avalanche on Hahn’s Peak on Dec. 25.

Learn from those who are deemed the experts or knowledgeable in whatever outdoor pursuit you find yourself in.

So many times we just let our ego guide us or deter us in new outdoor pursuits. But it’s learning about the perceived risk and actual risks you’re taking. It’s taking the requisite coursework. It’s going out there with people who know exactly where to go and what they are doing. Not going out there blindly to ruin it for the rest of us.

It takes one bad line or one wrong turn to make a good day an awful day landing you in the hospital or worse.

Make the commitment and put in the work to learn. Even if it means facing your fears or venturing to the unfamiliar, intimidating place outside that comfort zone.

There’s something within each of us that allows us to go further than before, to venture into that unknown territory.

How else do you learn?

You go out, and you just do it.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1


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