State Rank: 64
13er Rank: 11
Region: Sawatch Range
Trip 2: Hopeful Couloir (D13)|
Date: April 7, 2012
Elevation Gain: 4,848'
Partners: Caroline (ski), Bill (ski), Kelly, Shawn
Maps & Profile|
Hopeful Couloir - Wearing my Big Girl Panties
Initial planning of climbing the Hopeful Couloir involved only mountaineering boots, crampons and axes. But then Caroline mentioned she may want to go. That would mean adding skis and ski boots, plus full avalanche gear on top of all the rest. So add another 20 pounds to the pack... But as I took Friday off to go skiing at Loveland, we wouldn't know about whether I'd be skiing or not, until we had left the house. So I packed up my truck, planning for every contingency - it got full fast!
After an icy day at Loveland, where the snow only started to soften after lunch, we head to the other side of the tunnel, where I get confirmation from Caroline that she's coming to ski Mt Hope, and so is Bill. Oooo now to get my mind wrapped around a D13 ski. After having just done Dead Dog, a D11, I know that it will be difficult. A 50 degree entrance into the couloir. Hopefully (haha) the couloir will get warm enough that we won't have to "safety ski" it for half of it's length!
After a satisfying dinner at the Dillon Dam Brewery, we head along the bumpy and dusty road to the Sheep Gulch Trail head. First to arrive, we find a flat spot to park. A short time later, Caroline and Bill arrive and we have a mini staring contest, as they sit in Bill's truck and eat, and we relax outside my truck preparing for the next day. After sunset, Kelly and Shawn arrive and final plans are set. Kelly, wanting to stalk the full moon is sad to miss it, but the weather is showing a super hard freeze, and there's no need to spend more time in those conditions. The couloir will surely be hard and icy when we arrive.
We awaken at 3:30, after a short but decent night's sleep. The full moon had shown into the vehicles and made sleeping slightly more difficult. The temps are chilly, and we all wear most of our clothing. As is the norm, shortly up the trail, we have to ditch the topmost layers as the trail is steep, and it's tough work carrying so much weight on the back. The skiers are sweating. Shawn entertains us with "words of the hour/minute", and most are shocking - "Earmuffs!!!", yells Caroline, or "Ewwww" from Kelly.
The trail started off completely dry, but in the trees were zones of icy snow with large post holes in them. Around treeline, the snow gets more frequent, but is bomber hard. The wind picks up, and we all don our shells again. Eventually we can see up to the pass, and Bill comments that we should have skinned up the valley. Yup, the skiers should have. But that would have cost transition time for me, as I'm climbing the couloir, while Bill and Caroline are skinning/climbing the East Ridge route.
Near the saddle, we part ways with Caroline and Bill, and the rest up us go up to the pass, where I transition to ski boots, and drop my hiking boots and my skins (which I shouldn't have even brought). We were all freezing, and my fingers barely worked. Eventually I got my crampons on. Then, we all race down the 350' to the base of the couloir and into the sunshine to warm up and take a break.
With all the extra ski gear, I start up the couloir just a few seconds behind the group, and I would keep this distance most of the way up the couloir, only catching up on the icy sections - as ski boots and crampons are far superior to regular boots and crampons. This only meant that I kept my head down a lot on the climb up, and I only had time to snap some pics on occasion. Thankfully Kelly took out her inclinometer to confirm the 50 degree exit, as I only had time to note the snow conditions as well as the terrain features. Climbing up what you ski down allows you to scope the territory, and for something this difficult, I need all the insider info I can get.
Over all, the climb of the couloir went smoothly, as three sets of feet improved the step ladder, so that me with double the pack weight, could keep up. The exit was spicy, as the boys chose to go to the steeper right. Thankfully there was no cornice, otherwise my skis may have hit the exit (as my helmet hit once)!
From the top of the couloir, it was a short jaunt over the talus to the summit, the very windy summit. It was tough to do much of everything, as the warmth gained from climbing up, was being lost quickly by the flowing wind. Shortly after we arrived, Bill and Caroline's ski tips broke the surface of the horizon, and told the tale of rocks climbed because of bomber snow conditions on the SE slopes. After the requisite summit shot, we moved out of the wind.
Short break later and the hikers and skiers split into their own groups, with the skiers moving to the top of the couloir to wait a few more minutes. We would need a few more hours for the snow to soften enough, but a few more minutes always seems to help a little
Bill dropped in first, and showed his amazing and graceful skills in jump turning the steep entrance. Caroline and I could only stare in wonder, as we knew we would look much less graceful. Caroline went second, and confirmed the icy and rough nature of the top 100' or so. Safety skiing down and around a rock bend, to allow me to drop in. Only the first few feet for me were nice, as the lip of the couloir had some nice soft windblown powder on skiers right to slide in. From then on, it was a matter of staying upright and sliding lower into the couloir. Once it opened up a bit, Caroline and I could ski side by side for a while, as stopping for any length of time was painful on the uphill leg.
About halfway down, and below the rock constriction, I was able to start linking some decent turns in some soft snow. Much better conditions down here! The apron was amazing, and worth the extra effort hoofing up the skis. Still had to hold it check, as hidden variables always exist, but it was a great ski lower down. Smiles increased when the elevation decreased!
From there, we skied over to the rock band, and switched from downhill to uphill mode. Caroline and Bill with skins on, me with skis on my back, since my skins were on the pass. Not worth the weight for that short of a stretch!
Once on the other side of the pass, we met up with Kelly and Shawn, and reminded them why skiing is far superior to walking. Spring corn awaited on the south side, and we made use of it till we got to the trees. Then we had to don the hiking boots once again, and hoist our heavily burdened packs for the way out. At least Kelly got some glissading in. From there it was a steep and sometimes dusty, muddy and snowy trot out to the cars.
Photos: (View Slideshow)