Our group of 7 met in Castlerock on Saturday morning, drove to the upper (aka 4wd) parking lot (no snow on the road at all). The road seemed a bit rougher than last year but my Suburban (3” lift) carried all us up without a hitch. We loaded up and packed into S. Colony Lakes, keeping left and going the long way. There was a fair amount of snow after the old 4wd road ended and too much post-holing for my taste but alas, we made it. The stream was running well (although the lakes were still mostly covered in ice) so we were able to filter our water rather than melt snow.
Much of the camping areas are still covered in snow but three of the four tents were set up on dry ground (not so flat) and the 4th opted for a nice bit of flat snow. The evening was nice, but the wind blew all night, uggghhh. Pretty cool to wake up and look out the vent in my bivy and see the big dipper ('')
With an alpine start, we headed up broken hand pass. The snow was nicely consolidated and hard (despite the rather mild temperatures) making crampon travel easy. We arrived at the top of the pass at first light, the wind still bellowing.
Broken Hand Pass at first light
After a short break, we kept to the standard route as best we could (route finding was a bit of a challenge due to the snow) and found our way to the east couloir.
The summit during the approach to the east couloir
We stayed in the couloir for most of the last 1,000’ opting for snow and ice.
ascending the couloir
We reached the summit at 8:15 am. We had planned to traverse over to the Peak but missed our set Needle summit time by 45 minutes. It was a wise decision as our descent was very time consuming, especially since the bar was such a long way away but we could hear it calling for us ('')
The descent was considerably more difficult than the ascent. With the wind and cloud cover, the couloir hadn’t softened up as we had hoped. Plunge stepping was out and any mis-step could have spelled disaster. For the 600’ of especially steep down climbing, we opted to set up a fixed line with one climber descending on belay, then 4 descending using a prusik, the 6th descending on a prusik and setting snow pickets to protect the 7th climber who then pulled the anchor, descended on belay and pulled the pro. It all worked well and was the right decision.
The snow started to soften up as we reached Broken Hand Pass and our days efforts were rewarded with a sweet glissade.