Date: April 16, 2023
Leader: Forest Dean
Participants: Elizabeth Moore, Leland Earls, Ryan Gregson
I’ve been up the standard southeast ridge on East St. Mary’s Peak many times via its good, but very steep trail. Each time I have looked west at the ridge paralleling the SE Ridge and wondered about it. In March of 2019 a small group of us gave it a try but turned around at about 7400’ due to soft snow conditions. The desire never abandoned me and on this spring Sunday our group of four headed north to the Missions to give the Southwest Ridge Route a go!
The road to the reservoir was in bad shape- still a lot of snow and ice- so not wanting to take chances we parked about 2.5 miles before the reservoir. We got started about 7:20am and headed up the road about 1.5 miles before turning north and following the edge of the logged area up to a saddle, then east towards the SW Ridge proper. We put skis on and started skinning at about 5100’. Sort of brushy at that point but not bad at all by Missions standards. Cut switchbacks on firm snow for a little over 2000’ over the next hour or so up the very steep and broad lower part of the ridge. At about 7400’ we transitioned from skis to crampons as the ridge narrows considerably. We rested awhile, then took turns kicking steps or postholing as we went up and down and over some sharp bumps on the ridge. We moved fairly fast until the final 1000’ of climbing to the summit. Here the ridge narrows even more and we decided to rope up for safety. We climbed steeply up towards the summit staying mostly on the ridge except for a couple spots where we were forced onto its east side (these then involved a steep snow climb to regain the ridge around a small cliff band). After some effort, we topped out a few minutes after 3:00pm on the 9425’ summit.
We took a few pics, enjoyed the views, and greeted fellow TRM member Laurel Vielle and a couple of her partners as they topped out via the standard SE Ridge just a few minutes after we arrived. At 3:30, we began the descent. We opted to plunge step down the steep top part of the SE Ridge and then hike along the big flat plateau before clicking back into ski’s at 8600’ for the descent down the SE Ridge. Skiing was actually pretty decent for a couple thousand feet (the sun had popped out at times during the day, but was never in full force-high thin clouds most of day) before the brush gets thicker and became classic survival skiing. Skied back to melted out trail at 5100’, hiked down to reservoir, then put skis back on the glide the 2.5 miles back down road to vehicle. Ended up being a 12 hour day, 13.3 miles and about 5700’ of climbing. Great, compatible partners made for a very enjoyable spring day!
For those looking for different routes to a popular summit, this is a fun ridge! It appears no more difficult than class 3 when dry. Access isn’t too bad on lower slopes- there is bushwacking, but its not at all awful. From 7400’ to the summit you are on a narrow ridge with excellent views at all times. Check it out! Forest Dean