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The Gothic Spoon

That's me, approaching Gothic Mountain from Washington Gulch. The spoon is the constricting bowl half in light, half in shadow, that reaches to what appears to be the summitt. Flanked on the right (east) by crumbling rock spires.

That's me, approaching Gothic Mountain from Washington Gulch.

Spray Down

Vertical – 6,000 ft. round trip (2,800 ft. of steep climbing and fun skiing)

Horizontal – 6 miles, round trip

Town to trailhead – 10 minutes by car, 30-ish by bike

Aspect – South

Elevation – 12,300 – 9,500 ft.

Season – Great in spring conditions, or possible with a really stable winter snowpack

Thumbs up – 2

The Tale

Last winter I looked at the Spoon daily (unless we were in a white-out blizzard like we are as I write – 12 inches in the past 24 hours in town; thanks Ullr!). The line is a south-facing constricting bowl on Gothic Mountain just 8 miles from downtown Crested Butte. Flanked on the east by crumbling rock spires and on the west by a sharp, treed ridge, it rises 2,800 feet over 1.5 miles out of the Washington Gulch Valley.

I saw it on my way to and from work, out my bedroom window in the morning, and sometimes beneath my eyelids at night. I’m a fairly conservative backcountry skier safety-wise, so skiing it mid-winter scared me. Finally, in March – with my long-time friend and ski buddy, Reilly – I got to see it right beneath my BD Nunyos and blurring past my peripheral.

Reilly and I were tired at 6 a.m. as we stretched skins over our skis and began the flat tour to the base of Gothic Mountain. He had come to town the previous night for a weekend of skiing. He lived in CB the winter before, so, of course, we went out to see some friends he hadn’t seen since last season. Around 10:30 we got tired of trying to socialize over painfully loud and attention-deficit electronic music at The Eldo. The band made Reilly’s and my crappy middle-school garage band, Team Dysfunkshunal, sound like Guns n’ Roses, so we headed out to rest up for the Spoon.

We were staying in the condo I’d rented for a couple months up at the ski area, but we had misread the bus schedule and missed the last bus. Too cheap to pay the 10 bucks for a taxi ride, we decided to thumb it. We underestimated the difficulty of hitching at 11 p.m. so we had been shivering in the cold light of a street lamp for nearly an hour when a cop rolled to a stop in front of us. The officer lowered his window, leaned ominously into the passenger seat, and said: “Hey guys, doing okay?”


“Thanks for not standing in the street. You might have better luck up at the next corner, before people turn.”

We waved, thanked him, and laughed. In any other town we’d get at least a slap on the wrist, if not a ticket or a ride to the station, but not in CB. No, sir. Here, in a town with a genuine hitch-hiking station, you just get a little heart-felt advice.

Eventually one of the mountain taxis stopped in front of us and offered us a ride. We were about to break down and pay The Man, when one of the drunk tourists in back hollered out with a southern accent: “Hop in, boys, I got your ride tonight.” Cha-ching!. We slid into a seat next to two South American girls on work exchange, and had a nice, snug lift home. Not as early as planned, but way more fun.

So, yeah, we were a little sleepy as we made the 1-mile, 200-foot approach to the bottom of the climb. But as the sun rose on the high ridges, I was energized by the feeling that we were in for one of those good ol’ blue-bird bliss days.

Ascent route is in blue, descent route in red. Unfortunately, Google earth shows gothic in the nude, sans snow.

Ascent route is in blue, descent route in red. Unfortunately, Google earth shows Gothic in the nude, sans snow.

The climb begins as a mellow tour up through skeletal aspen groves and evergreen dark timber. After a couple hundred feet of gain, we began climbing up a 30-degree-and-steepening pitch. Still in the morning shadow, the snow was ice hard. We strapped our skis and poles on our packs and took out the ice axes. I wasn’t sure we’d need them and neither was Reilly, but we’d brought them just in case. They ended up being nice to have on this hard snow, but definitely not essential: our kicked-in steps felt secure. Axes in hand, we began a rhythmical boot pack up: step, step, plunge; step, step, plunge.

Reilly Anderson on the summit sprint. Well, maybe not sprint, exactly, but we were definitely near the summit.

Reilly Anderson on the summit sprint. Well, maybe not a sprint, exactly, but we were definitely near the summit.

After climbing steep snow on the ridge that’s viewer’s left of the bowl that’s viewer’s left of the spoon, we traversed toward the spoon on wobbly, icy talus.

Spring talus for spring turns.

Spring talus for spring turns.

The talus traverse brought us to the top of the Spoon, which is a false summitt about 200 feet below and a quarter mile from the true summit. The snow still needed about an hour of sun, so we grabbed some water and a snack, then walked up to the summitt.
Don't you love those water bottles that come with a free pint of whiskey when you buy them?

Don't you love those water bottles that come with a free pint of whiskey when you buy them?

When we got back to the top of the spoon from the summit, a local guide and client were resting near our packs, also waiting for the snow to soften a bit. After chatting for a few minutes, Reilly and I put on layers, tightened buckles, donned our packs and stepped into the skis. The other party gave us first tracks, and we dropped into the top of the bowl.
Dodging snow snakes on the top pitch. ca. 28-degree slope.

Dodging snow snakes on the top pitch. ca. 28-degree slope.

The top 100 feet was sticky and thick mashed potato snow. After that we had nothing but buttery hero turns. The line gradually steepened, and in the tightest constriction (where the spoon’s handle begins) a rollover blocked the view of the terrain below. I’d guess it topped out just between 35 and 40 degrees. Steep enough for joy.
The ridge on skier’s right develops a wind lip, and Reilly, a more stylie skier than me, was able to air out on some hip hits. After a couple thousand feet of steeps, the gulley opened up onto an aspen tree bench. We looked back up at our tracks and watched the guide drop in. He skied to a safe spot and his client followed. One of his tips dove, he tumbled head over heels, and one of his skies rocketed down the bowl. His guide went into rescue mode, but it was too late. After a morning of hard climbing, the client had to monoski and boot-plunge down most of the line. Glad they gave us first tracks!
After waiting on the bench to make sure all skis and people were recovered, (which they were, no problem) Reilly and I dodged branches down through the aspens and out to the flat valley approach. Then we shed layers and slogged back to the car in T-shirts. Goddess bless spring skiing. First priority: $1 pizza slices at The Bakery at the ski area base.

2 comments to The Gothic Spoon

  • Yeah Cisco! Team Dysfunkshunal references and all. Bummed things fell through moving to CB this winter but I’ll be back in ‘rado this April hopefully! Dig the blog and keep in touch man.

  • Francisco Tharp

    Thanks for checking out the blog, Steve. Let’s surf snow soon. Viva Team Dysfunkshunal!