| Mt. Democrat's North Couloir
When a smile says it all. (Photo by Darin)
Unique Considerations: Although this route is described in guide books by Roach, Dawson, and Cooper, this route may cross private property. At no point in the route did we encounter signage that identified private property or prohibited passage. Travel this route at your own risk.
Mmm. Snow climbs.
I haven't made many snow climbs in my mountaineering career. And what I have completed has been mostly low-angle stuff; the S-gully on Bross, the south gully on Lackwanna, some snow slopes here and there. My first snow climb was the Crooked Couloir on Mt. Audubon, back in 2009, which I bravely and ignorantly climbed alone, in newly bought crampons, just nine months after walking up my first mountain. The Baron used to say courage can't be bought at REI but I disagree, to a point. The courage I had gained at REI took me halfway up the Crooked Couloir. There I was, glued by sheer willpower to a 45-degree snow slope, and I felt more alone and afraid than ever before. The courage was stripped from me in the wind and I was standing bare in a powerful waterfall, soon to crumble under it's massive force. Scary, yes, but extremely exhilarating. And when the snow slope finally rolled away and I completed the climb, the fear and exhiliration was replaced by a sense of accomplishment that has been hard to replicate. Back in the early days, naivety reigned. Now, after a couple years of hill walking, my innocence has been breached by experience. I better understand the dangers, almost to the point where I sometimes feel crippled by the knowledge of consequence.
And then came this climb with Darin Baker.
All those fearful feelings on the Crooked Couloir returned to me but they were blunted. Stepped on. Trampled. The fear was overcome by fun. And the exhilaration, the sweet by-product of my fear, returned like this was the very first time. The feeling is addictive - one that could keep me coming back for more.
Not much more to be said except for one thing - the most important thing: Thank you, Darin, for the great day out on the snow. I learned a lot from your insight and I appreciate the patience you showed to me. You are someone I've respected since I first joined this community. It was great to climb with you.
Captions on top of photos.
The Nordwand. Our ascent route is in red. According to the Colorado Snow Climbs guide book, the entire route round-trip is 10 miles with 2,600 ft. of gain. There is more to be had if you choose to follow the north ridge to the summit of Democrat.
I arrive at Montgomery Reservoir after 7 PM, Saturday evening. I drive to the farside of the near-empty reservoir and park below the old Magnolia Mill structure. The middle fork of the South Platte River roars like a jetliner.
Darin arrives as the last light of day illuminates Mount Silverheels.
We meet for the first time. After trading some stories and laughs, we decide on a 3 AM wake-up. We retire to our bivy sacks as the sun hides from the darkness.
We wake at 3 AM. We're walking up the road thirty minutes later, our headlamps leading the way. We find a way around the deep ponds that cover the road in many spots. It's not long before we are walking on hard continuous snow. Mount Democrat comes into full view at 5 AM.
The north couloir receives an early sun hit. It's ten minutes before 6 AM.
We approach the base of the couloir at 7 AM. Mount Democrat's rugged north ridge towers above us. (Photo by Darin)
The couloir rises between rock bands on our left. Now that doesn't look too bad. It is 800 feet of friendly and exhilarating bliss.
We fuel our bodies with food and drink, put on our crampons, and then start up the snow slope. It quickly steepens.
Darin says the snow is in pretty good shape. I don't much about snow but I'm learning. I take his word for it and chalk one up for experience. Now I know what good snow feels like. He kicks some excellent steps and I gladly follow.
The north ridge of Democrat, Traver Peak, and McNamee Peak tower above me. (Photo by Darin)
Now this is fun. I use my gauge to measure the slope angle at 45 degrees. (Photo by Darin)
A stairway to the top. Darin waits at the rocks above. It's taken me nearly one hour to ascend the couloir.
The snow steepens at the exit. Easier passage can be had on the rocks to the right of the exit (not seen here).
We relax at the top of the couloir. Fremont Pass and the Climax mine are visible to the northwest. We are so close to civilization (if a devestating strip mine can be called that) and yet so far, far, away.
The view down the couloir. A group of seven climbers approach the bottom of the couloir. We meet them later - a fun and kind group of climbers. Good to meet you all.
I've been told that the north ridge of Democrat provides a fun scramble to the summit.
A long fun glissade returns us to the relative safety of Platte Gulch. It's now noon.
We walk out under blue skies and beautiful weather.
Water, water, everywhere...
More beta on the route is available at summitpost.org