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 Peak(s):  Meeker, Mt  -  13,911 feet
 Post Date:  07/07/2008
 Date Climbed:   04/19/2008
 Posted By:  Peakrunner

 Meeker Dragon Egg Couloir   

Mount Meeker South Face Ski Descent
Dragon Egg Couloir
April 19, 2008

Stats:
Roundtrip distance from Sandbeach TH to summit ~14 miles
Elevation gain ~5560 feet


View from treeline up the couloir
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General Description

While this is not a true summit descent due to the notorious high winds of the Meeker/Longs Peak area leaving nothing but large bare rocks for 400 vertical feet around the summit it still makes for a long, but classic ski mountaineering experience. The descent down the couloir is a rewarding 3000+ ft with the maximum angle near the top at about 50 degrees. Due to the SSE aspect of the couloir an early morning start is typically necessary in the spring season due to the long approach, elevation gain, and early sunhit.

Sandbeach Lake Trailhead - Rocky Mountain National Park

The Sandbeach Lake Trail parking area is near the entrance to Wild Basin, just east of Copeland Lake. Turn west on to Wild Basin Road from CO7, at a junction about 2 miles north of Allenspark. The parking lot for the trailhead is just west of Highway 7, near the entrance fee station just before Copeland Lake. In the winter they were not collecting fees.

Trip Details

Weather conditions leading to trip
The week before the trip saw highs in the Denver area around 80 degrees for almost a week and a half with alot of sun. The snotel station in Wild Basin (~9600 ft) showed daytime highs up to the 60s with night time lows below freezing. Three days prior to our trip the area received anywhere from 3-6 inches of snow with some high winds followed again by the high temperatures for a day or two.
Snowpack discussion
The warm temps had solidified this south face very well (at least before the latest snow). There was evidence of some recent wet slide activity from rock outcrops, likely from the warm temperatures in the afternoons. The CAIC had reported similar activity all around the CO mountains. We did not dig a pit for this trip, but it probably would have been near impossible past the first 6 inches with the typical solid spring snowpack setting in on this aspect. The only part of the trip that cold have been better was the solidification of the new snow (about 4 inches) on top of the snowpack. We were left with very variable surface conditions where we would break through the 1-1.5 inch crust in places and it would be enough to hold our weight in others. This made for a bit of a tougher climb and at times an interesting ski descent.
The Approach
Skisotope and I left the Copeland Lake Trailhead via the Sandbeach Lake trail at 0220 am in our tele boots, with skis on our backs, and headlights blaring through the pines during a near full moon. After about 1-1.5 miles we began to encounter consistent snow on the trail, even though we were not breaking through even though the temperature was around 30 degrees at 9000 ft. After remaining in our boots for about a half mile longer we decided to lose the ski load and skin the rest of the approach. Shortly after crossing Hunter's Creek we lost the trail and started making our way towards the base of the couloir, which we could see at this point. After about 4 hours on the trail we reached the base of the couloir.

Just after putting crampons on

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The Climb
We skinned up the base as far as was feasible then replaced our skis with crampons, and put our skis on our packs for the rest of the climb. The snow was very firm in places requiring the crampons, but crusty with a couple inches of unconsolidated snow in other places. We carried ice axes, but only used our ski poles for stability on the climb. After about 2.5 hours we reached the top of the snow filled couloir, and took another 30 minutes to gain the summit. After downclimbing back to the start of the snow the air was still crisp and windy, and even with the sun out the snow surface was not softening up due to the cool winds.

One of the steeper sections on the lower part

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The last couple steps in the snow before bare rock

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Looking across to Longs from the summit

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The Skiing
We waited about an hour for it to soften up a bit while we rested, hydrated, and ate some food. On the descent there were sections of smooth spring snow, breakable crust, heavy mush, and iced over hardpack ... the best part was you did not know which variety was going to be under you at each turn. After some lackluster skiing performances in the upper part of the couloir the middle section and very bottom proved to be the best.

Looking down from near the top of the snow
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Another look down the line
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Skisotope taking a turn
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The Way Out

After reaching the trees we decided to follow Hunter's Creek out and gain the trail at the crossing. We were able to travel without the use of skins, although there was still some uphill battles. We boot packed out the last 1.5-2 miles on a dirt trail and made it back to the trailhead about 11 hours after we started with 70 degree temperatures to greet us. All in all a great, long day in the mountains



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