| Sunrise Couloir
This has been a route that I have wanted to do for a couple of years now. From Summit Lake, the wide Couloir that tops out near the center of the Saddle between Mt. Spalding and Mt. Evens West Ridge actually looks fairly benign. This was the biggest reason Jason and I decided that we would ascend this route. I had read the description in The Roach's guide book when we had first started snow climbing the year before. I remembered it being described as being one of the easier snow assents up the bowl surrounding Summit Lake. The only problem was I had temporarily misplaced the book, so referencing that was not really an option. Instead, I attempted to find the route on a couple of websites that tend to have reliable descriptions, but was unable to find much info prior to the climb.
In an effort to reduce the likelihood of any surprises, and in an effort to get a good idea of what snow conditions would be up there, Jason and I scouted it after work Friday night. It was obvious from the bottom that there was a wicked cornice hanging on for dear life at thetop of the route, and it was also clear that the left hand side of the route was not the way we would be going up, as it was littered with Avalanche debris from wet slides. The only thing that eased our minds was the fact that the snow under our feet after a warm June day was still solid, and all of the debris was covered with a fresh layer of snow from the storm that had blown through earlier in the week. After going home and double checking the forcast, we settled on Sunday morning. Friday night was forcast to have a hard freeze over night, Saturday was forcast to be warm with another solid freeze Saturday night. We felt like this would give us ideal snow conditions.
Sunday morning we headed out, and made it to Summit Lake a little bit later than we had planned, arriving shortly after first light. As we made our was around the lake on the wonderfully brief approach we spotted another climber near the top of the Couloir that is immediately to the right of Sunrise. I was also able to spot two sets of tracks up Sunrise from the day before. One pair ran up the left side, through the area that had avalanche debris, and had an unclear exit point, and one which ran up the route we had discussed as our likely route on Friday night. Aside from that, Sun hit had reached the tip of the upper left corner of the climb. We decided our plan to go up the right side would be the safes from an Avalanche standpoint. We headed out at about 6:30am, much later than we had hoped. As we set off, the climber in the neighboring couloir was breaking through the cornice sealing that narrow shoot and was disappearing over the top.
The angle of the slope increased fairly quickly, and before we knew it we were approaching the cliffs that run up either side. It was at this point that the climbing got serious. My inclinometer registered a 45 degree slope where we were at, and from hear we had the perspective that allowed up to scope what the upper portion would have in store. It was clear that is continued to steepen as it went up. We were making good time, but sunlight now washed over at least 1/8th of the upper left hand portion of the climb. We took a couple of shots from our perch on the rock we had stopped to take a quick break at, and headed out again.
This is the view down from the small rock we stoped on... this was the last photo I took until we got to the top
Shortly after heading out, we heard the horribly disconcerting sound of a snow release. We looked to see a wet slide moving down the far left hand side of the Couloir. This lit a fire under us. Up to this point Jason and I had been swapping lead position to maximize our energy, and I was nearing the end of my reserve on my lead shift. Aside from that, it was getting unnervingly steep. At that point I guessed it at least 55 degrees. I knew that if I stayed in the lead it would only slow us down, so I asked Jason to take lead for a little while. Jason moved past me, and took over the arduous work of kick stepping up the increasingly steep slope. We moved about 20 feet further up before we eyed what looked to be the ideal exit point. The only problem is it meant crossing past a distinctly convex section of snow, at the climbs steepest point.
I wanted so much to take a photo, but there was no way I was going to take my pack off to get my camera out. At this point the slope measured at 65 degrees, and there was no way my hand was going to leave my ice ax, as I wrapped the leash a couple extra times around my wrist. I also knew that we were nearing the point where Jason was going to need to trade lead, but there was no where to do it. Adding to our anxiety, as we crossed the crux of the route, another wet slide released not 50 feet to our left. Both Jason and I froze, as he was making his was across the somewhat convex portion of the slope which was unavoidable if we didn't want to have to break through the large cornice guarding the rest of the couloir.
I waited with my breath half held as I waited for him to finish what to me appeared to be an avalanche waiting to happen before I started across. The nice thing was the fact that the slope went back to a concave form just before the actual exit of the climb, from where skiers and snowboarders had cut through. This made the last couple of moves a lot more fun. At its steepest, the inclinometer measured 65+ degrees. I am not standing by this measurement, based purely on the fact that this was the measurement taken near the convex portion of the climb. Once we cleared the top, I whipped out my camera, dropped my gear, and got as close to the top as I dared without my ice ax, and got a couple of shots the showed the profile of the climb.
I just ran our route through the NG Topo program, and dry it gives the average slope angle on the couloir as 61 degrees, so given the convex nature near the crux of the climb, I am thinking that my measurement was probably pretty dead on. Also, when I got home I was able to find the route on Summit Post, but it was listed under Mt. Spalding, not Evans.
This is an general idea of what our route was. I was hoping I would be able to zoom in enough to see our actual route, but was unable to make it out.
One way or the other, it was an awesome climb. Unfortunately it was also our only snow climb this season, but the way I figure it, it was well worth it… I would without question climb it again… several times.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):