| Grizzly Couloir - This Oso Ain‘t So So!
Peaks: Grizzly (13,988ft), Garfield (13,780ft)
Route: Grizzly Couloir, Ridge Traverse to Garfield
RT Distance: ~9.75 Miles
Gain: Roughly 4,000 Feet
Participants: Chicago Transplant, jamienellis, shanahan96, stevevets689
Ascent route and traverse to Garfield is in green. Descent route in red.
Photos courtesy of Chicago Transplant
At the request of Jamie (shanahan96) I am going to write the following three trip reports in a George Lucas fashion… in the wrong order. This climb brought my week's total elevation gain to around 13,400 feet, and may have capped off my spring snow climbing for the season.
Jamie and I had been talking on the phone for a while, and originally the plan was for he and the other Jamie (jamienellis) plus Mike (Chicago Transplant) and a couple others to climb the Refrigerator Couloir on Ice Mountain while I climbed North Apostle, but two days before the climb Jamie told me that the plan had changed to Grizzly Peak, another classic Sawatch Range snow climb. This couloir has better surrounding rock, so the Jamies were fine with me climbing with them.
I got home from work on Friday the 20th and got all my stuff together as quickly as possible. By 5:15 PM I was on the road heading north, and arrived at the La Plata trailhead at the same time as the Jamies, a bit after 7. We waited for Mike to show up and I hopped in the car with him, leaving my car behind so I wouldn't mangle it on the Lincoln Creek road. Yes, it's passable with passenger vehicles, but I didn't trust my '85 Volvo on it.
So then there were all the pre-climbing preparations the night before. We decided to leave the snowshoes behind, a decision we would be thankful for later. I got my pack all set to go, Mike, Male-Version-Jamie and I chatted about climbing for a while, and we all went to bed. I finally got my first decent night's sleep before a climb, even though I had forgotten my pad! I think it was the week's previous two climbs which had made me tired enough.
The alarm went off at three in the morning, and we left camp by 3:30 to drive the last little bit up the road from our campsite. By four we were hiking up the trail. Patches of snow delayed us only a little as we made our way by our headlamps along the otherwise very good trail. The moonlight showed us that we were slowly making our way around Grizzly's north ridge.
As the sun slowly started to send some light into the basin, we looked around at the rough ridges surrounding us. I am unfamiliar with this part of the Sawatch Range and couldn't believe I wasn't in the San Juans or something. This just didn't look like, say, Mount Princeton or Mount Elbert. Then, when our goal finally came into view, my understanding of this area became a little sharper. Rough mountains can be found in ANY of Colorado's ranges!
Grizzly's rough North Face
We were on and off the trail as the terrain got steeper and snowier. There are some areas in this convoluted basin where some would consider donning crampons and axes a little early, but we managed to avoid that until we were past Grizzly Lake at 12,500 feet. Now begins the snow climbing. The Grizzly Couloir gets steep pretty quickly, but luckily for us there were already fantastic steps kicked into the snow. We made decent time up the couloir, and I relished in my third and rapidly becoming favorite snow climb so far. The snow was super solid, and the sun was warm, at least while it was shining on us.
Climbing up the couloir, Grizzly Lake below
Once we moved into the middle, shaded part of the Couloir, the snow turned a bit icy. The going slowed down somewhat as we all became more cautious of our footing. I for one know my ax placements either weren't that good, or were coming with difficulty. I made an extra effort not to slip. In the meantime, the view to the north gradually became better and better as more peaks came into view from behind the ridges, slowly falling away.
By maybe 13,700 feet we were back in the sun, and the top of the Couloir didn't look to be far away. Of course I was the last one to reach it, but I was only behind by maybe ten minutes, so I'm making progress. The last stretch before topping out was absolutely the most exciting part, as just briefly the snow steepened beyond 50 degrees (I think). The steps were still excellent though, so I was able to pause in the steepness to let my position soak in. At last, I topped out. We all removed our crampons for the day and continued on to the summit.
Yours truly, topping out on one of my new favorites
The ridge to the summit from the top of the Couloir, though short, isn't simple. There is a lot of loose scree and we found that staying on the ridge crest wasn't the best choice. There is a bit of class 2+ "scampering" along some solid rock, some slipping and crawling up the looseness, and at last a solid stretch of ridge to the summit. The views were stunning. The new surveys of the Colorado peaks say that Grizzly is closer to 13,995 feet, so I felt satisfied knowing that at least my head was at 14,000 feet. For a brief moment in time, YOU TOO can be the shortest 14er in Colorado!
Elk Range Splendor
Garfield Peak from Grizzly Peak
A short break later, we continued our southward journey towards our secondary objective, Garfield Peak. We descended to the saddle on more loose scree and traversed around a little point we dubbed "Odie." Then we continued along the class 2+ ridge on more loose scree (see a pattern yet?) and a little bit of more solid rock along the crest. We summited Garfield a bit after ten and had another short break. Now for the descent…
We had been looking for a good glissade route west into the basin in order to intercept the closed part of the Lincoln Creek Road, and had seen a nice, continuous snowslope which made it almost all the way to the road, but that was a ways farther north from the ones we were looking at from the summit of Garfield. For future reference, always take that first, continuous one you see. We descended even more loose scree to the proposed descent, and saw that it narrowed between rocks and dropped below what we could see. Once we were all together, Jamie the boy started the first descent. He very slowly and cautiously approached the drop in the snow, breaking and finally arresting just above it. He called all clear and we glissaded to him one at a time, all arresting before dropping into the steep gully. By the time I got down there, Jamie had realized that we could hit rocks descending this gully but the next one to the right looked better. We traversed across steep snow into the next gully, which had a gradual run-out to safe ground, but still had rocks in the fall-line to the left. Jamie boy and Mike glissaded a ways, traversed right, and then continued, while Jamie girl and I made our way to the rocks to our right, descended back to snow, and glissaded as far as we could from there. At the bottom we looked up what we had descended… probably what some would consider a tough snow climb, let alone glissade! Know your self-arresting abilities before going anywhere near this.
From here to the road was a rough, willow whacking, bog wallowing, timber bashing route. We were so relieved to be on a nice, solid road once we got there, even though we still had to endure the 3 + miles back to the trailhead. The views were still amazing at least; the peaks behind us looked challenging and beckoning for future adventures. I would gladly enter this wilderness again to face them. We got back to the car, tired but satisfied from a tough but fun climb. This one will stick out in my mind as one of my favorite days in the mountains. I drove back home and slept well, only to face another adventure the next day (see Kzar's "Major Adventure on Kit Carson" trip report.) That story's only relevance here is that it brought my week's total elevation gain to around 14,400 feet! Then I took a week off…
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