| Pikes Peak via Y Couloir: The Sequel
Pikes Peak (14115')- CO Rank 30
via Y Couloir left branch/Barr/Bottomless Pit trails
May 11-12, 2007
~16 miles RT, 8000' gain
Participants: Dave "Hoot" Gibson, Dave Hale, and Kevin Baker
Last year Dave, Hoot, and I had a spectacular day climbing the right branch of Y Couloir on Pikes, which Gerry Roach describes as the premier mountaineering route on its north face. We had so much fun the first time on the right branch of the Y that we vowed to come back and try the left branch next year.
A powerful late spring storm on Monday left Pikes east face perhaps the whitest I have seen it in the 3.5 years I have lived in Colorado Springs. We wavered throughout the week on postponing the climb as avy concerns were there. The forecast looked good in terms of no precip, but the high was supposed to hit 50 degrees high on the mountain, which is not good for a couloir climb. We would just turn this into a recon mission for next week if the snow was unstable.
Another issue was accessibility. We were hoping to either approach Bottomless Pit via the Crags route from the west or camp by the toll road high on the mountain. Since there was a bunch of snow on the Crags route and you can't park a car on the road overnight, we opted to approach from the long Barr Trail again.
To Barr Camp
Hoot and I set off from the crowded Barr trailhead at around 4:45 Friday afternoon. Dave had a party to attend in the evening, so he opted for a moonlight hike arriving at Barr Camp a couple hours before our 4am departure. He was a real stud going all the way up in one day!
I suggested to Hoot that we should just go halfway up the Incline and save some time from the endless switchbacks on Barr. Bad idea? I tried to go lighter this year, but my pack was probably still 30 pds with my boots inside. Hoot set a comfortable pace so we wouldn't redline our heart rates in the first 30 minutes of the hike. We felt good enough at the halfway point to continue all the way to the top, but it took us around 53 minutes. It looks like this isn't saving much time! We ended up taking a pipeline trail that dead ended at a fence crossing a creek, so we had to bushwack down to Barr with our heavy packs. I guess we won't do that anymore!
We probably lost about 15 minutes from the bushwack and were now pushing getting to Barr Camp soon enough for Neil and Teresa's fine spaghetti dinner! The incline took it out of our legs, and we were dragging the last mile or so, arriving at around 6:30. Sure enough, they had plenty of spaghetti left for us. There were 5 others staying in the cabin that night, three of which were skiers/boarders who were planning on climbing the Y and skiing the Railroad couloir. Maybe we could follow their tracks!
Neil and Teresa told us that Barr Camp had received 229 inches of snow this season, compared to only about 50 last year! They got about 2 ft from the storm on Monday and Barr Trail was broke only to the Bottomless Pit trail. Hoot and I originally had booked a lean-to reservation, but they let us stay in the main cabin since the skier group was planning to leave earlier than us anyway.
Y Left Branch "The Sequel"
I didn't get much sleep as usual in the cabin, but I couldn't blame it on snorers this time as it was quiet. The skiers set out 45 minutes or so before us, so we were happy to have a broken trail! We got our gear together outside and met Dave, who took a catnap outside waiting for us. We set out at 4:10am under clear skies and a temp of 43.
Above Barr Camp the snow was almost continous on the trail with some brief bare patches. We made it up to the Bottomless Pit trail junction at 10800' in about 30 minutes without snowshoes, as the snow was pretty firm. Here we donned snowshoes as we remembered the sidehilling wallow we had last year. I was able to get by without a soft shell the rest of the day as it was real warm. I was hoping the Bottomless Pit wasn't a debris field when we arrived!
Hoot led the way following the skier tracks to Bottomless Pit. We made better time on the trail this year even though there was more snow. I wiped out a couple times in the deep snow as sidehilling with snowshoes isn't real fun, but we agreed that the effort thus far was easier than last year with a track to follow. We enjoyed the sunrise at treeline very close to the the same spot as last year.
We ended up 100 ft or so above the trail, so we did a descending traverse down to the slope below Bottomless Pit, where we met the skiers. Apparently snowshoes were more efficient than skins on this day. The wind picked up briefly when the sun rose, but it quickly died down as we entered the enchanted world of The Cirque, a place visited by few people. There were signs of a few point release slides on some of the north facing slopes below Bottomless Pit, so we hoped conditions were stable enough to continue.
The snow was in pretty good shape as we approached the bottom of the Y, although it looked like the Railroad Couloir had more debris. We were able to snowshoe with minimal postholing all the way to just above where the Railroad and Y Couloirs begin. Here's a view of the whole route of the Y courtesy of adimmen from Teton Gravity.
The last couple hundred feet of the snowshoe was really tough and my calves were feeling the effects of the incline from yesterday! We donned crampons and axes at 12750' for the rest of the climb, setting off at around 8:15. In the 20 minutes or so that we breaked, the snow really softened up.
The bottom of the couloir was not very fun as we were already postholing 1-2 ft. This is normally a bad sign, but we didn't feel like the snow was unstable and around 3/4 of the climb would be in the shade where the snow was in decent shape. Dave led the way initially staying on the left side in the shade when possible. We took shifts breaking trail as the leader was really having to work. This was going to be much more effort than last year!
We took the left branch as planned which looked to be shaded better than the right branch. I paid my dues with the lead through the crux, a small rock band that was very icy. It looked pretty easy when we approached, but it ended up feeling harder than it looked. The slope steepens to around 50 degrees above and below this area, then mellows out to 45 or less. Overall it felt like the right branch was steeper, but the rock band seemed a little more challenging in the left branch. I guess it all depends on the conditions.
The last few hundred feet to the summit mellowed out, but it still was a considerable effort to lead as we were now in the sun more. Hoot led the way for the final stretch and we topped out at 10am. Here's a short video clip near the top:
Let the circus begin! We were immediately greeted by a skier who was eyeing the Y. He ended up going down the Railroad Couloir at around noon. Some tourists who drove up the road came over and asked where we had came up. We said, "Up the gully there" and they stared at us like we were movie stars. One lady asked Hoot for his pic. One guy said, "You don't see this in Indiana."
We watched the 3 guys top out below us as we were taking off our crampons. I'm sure they were happy followed our staircase to the summit. I don't think the Y slides very often, but I wouldn't want to be in it much later than 11am with the conditions we faced.
We headed over to the summit house for some grub and culture shock with hopes of catching the first cog train down. The conductor had spots for us! A lady asked for my pic with his son as we were about to leave. Whatever floats your boat! Dave and Hoot rode it all the way down why I rode it halfway to Mountain View so I could retrieve my stuff at Barr Camp.
The walk from Mountain View to Barr Camp was pleasant on this bluebird day. I chatted with Neal and Teresa again and they said a few had made it up the standard Barr Trail route today, the first in a week and a half. The familiar stroll down Barr wasn't near as bad as last year since I didn't do the top half of the descent. There were many runners and hikers out enjoying the day. I arrived back at the car at 3:15, happy to enjoy another thrilling journey up the Y on Pikes with Dave and Hoot.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):