| The Skin Flute Couloir
May 10, 2012
~9.9 Miles, 5,300 Gain
Trailhead: Horn Creek trailhead.
Route: FA of The Skin Flute Couloir AI3 or M2/5.5-6
Driving from Medano Pass didn't take very long and we arrived at the Horn Creek trailhead around 4:00 PM. Shortly after my arrival, my partner Justin arrived from Denver. We set up camp, sorted gear and hung out until we went to bed.
It could have been worse but the alarm went off at 4:15 AM and we were hiking up the Horn Creek Trail around 4:45 AM. We quickly intercepted the Rainbow Trail and headed north until the Dry Lakes Trail junction. I was surprised at how rocky the start of the Dry Lakes trail as we headed upward. The uphill was relentless but a trail to follow was a novelty. Unfortunately, the trail came to an end around ~11,000 feet. If anyone was wondering where the snow was, it was located in this valley.
Almost immediately, large snow drifts blocked easy progress up the trail. The snow wasn't consolidated and was rather slushy. After a few ass deep steps, we decided to climb up steep slopes on the north side of the valley to avoid the deep snow. As we traversed west on the north side, we endured plenty of side hilling, talus and an occasional step up to the crotch snow. So much for our planned 2 hour approach.
When we were done being tortured by our side-hill trek up the valley around ~11,800, the lush environment of willows took over for the rest of our approach. I have certainly endured worse willows and I would rate this willow bushwhack as a Class 2 willow whack.
Little Horn from our approach towards Dry Lakes.
We arrived at the base of our climb much later than we anticipated but the snow appeared to still be in good shape. In theory, if our nice trail was in condition, the approach would have only taken us 2 hours not 3.5 hours. From the base, we could see several areas that could pose as possible cruxes. We decided to rope up from the bottom and just simul-climb until a belay was needed. The snow climbing began around 8:30 AM.
East face of Fluted Peak.
Justin approaching our climb.
A zoom of our climb.
The first portion of the climb went fairly fast and I quickly encountered our first cliff band crux. A direct climb of the ice was not an option as the ice was completely sun rotted. I found an M2 weakness on the left side of the cliff band and was able to get a large nut in a crack for protection. Justin would probably argue this was the hardest move of the climb as he complained that I knocked off all the ice making it even harder.
Starting up the couloir. (Photo by Justin)
First mixed portion over the first cliff band. (Photo by Justin)
Within another 100 feet of our first cliff band was our second crux. Again, I climbed out on the left side of the cliff band. It was a committing class 4 move which I protected with a small nut. Simuling upward after the second cliff band, we finally hit what I thought was the crux of the climb. The climb would have been so much better if we could have climbed the short 30-40 foot AI3 section but the ice was completely rotten.
Approaching the AI3 section/chimney. (Photo by Justin)
An alternative to the alpine ice section was a dirty 120 foot M2/5.5-6 chimney. Justin set up a belay for me at the base of the chimney and I started upwards. I was able to get 1 shorty ice screw placed along with a few cams before I hit the crux chockstone. Climbing out from under the chockstone was scary since my last piece of protection was 15 feet below me. Dry tooling and finding decent feet with crampons on conglomerate boiler plate slabs was something I was not well practiced at. Rock protection was nil, the ice was too rotten under the chockstone for a screw so I placed one of my tools in the ice for protection. It would probably stop a slip but not a big whipper as I wanted something for the committing move out from under the chockstone.
That ice is junk. (Photo by Justin)
Starting up the M2/5.5-6 chimney. The chockstone crux can be seen above me.
Once on top of the chockstone, I encountered some more mixed snow and ice until I was able to reach a ledge. I set up a belay for Justin and he made his way up the chimney. From our perch, we found a grassy ledge which took us back into the main couloir. To our surprise, the snow was in better condition in the upper half than in the lower half of the couloir.
Little Horn from high on our route.
Looking up the upper portion of the climb.
Looking down the route from our traverse back into the main gully.
Justin climbing the upper portion of the couloir.
Continuing upward, we noticed a very large cornice at the top of the main couloir. Exit from the main gully was not going to be an option. Consequently, about 100 feet below the ridge was a hidden spur couloir on our left that allowed us to gain the ridge without any cornice. Near the top of the spur the steepness was around 60 degrees and the snow was poorly consolidated. Fighting deep powder and energy consuming steps I finally reached the top of the ridge.
Nasty cornice in the main couloir.
Left spur exit.
Justin making his way towards the top of the main couloir. (It's not that steep)
Justin working his way up the left spur.
The steep part of the left spur exit.
Justin finishing the snow climb.
At the top, I set up a quick belay for Justin and from our snow climb exit, it was a 5 minute hike to the summit where we arrived at 11:20 AM. What an outstanding way to climb Fluted. We took a break and packed up our climbing gear and started our way towards Little Horn. I was not very excited to have a heavy pack again.
The hidden left spur (top is still hidden). Our steps can be seen.
Looking down the main couloir.
Crestones from the summit of Fluted.
East face of Fluted. Lower section of our climb can be seen.
Zoom of the crux from near the Little Horn-Fluted saddle. AI3 left, M2/5.5-6 chimney right.
Fluted from the west ridge of Little Horn.
Crestones from Little Horn.
Fluted from our descent off of Little Horn.
The traverse to Little Horn was non-eventful and we arrived on the summit at 12:20 PM. I noticed plenty of names from the recent 14ers gathering. The class 3 sections on the east ridge of Little Horn took a little bit of time as the fresh snow from the recent storm made things a bit slick. We made our way downward, fighting a few snow drifts. Once we found a dry path, we cut directly south to the Horn Lakes Trail which took us back to the car where we arrived at 3:00 PM.
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