| A Busy Day on Cristo
Since the brilliantly extended snow climbing season in 2008, I have been itching to get this season started, and have really wanted to introduce some of my buddies the wonder that is spring couloir climbing. Both have an incredible amount of summer mountaineering experience, but had always stayed away from snow climbs, which I thought was a total shame. Of course, the climb that was at the top of the list was Cristo Couloir. I was familiar with it from the climb I had done June 2008, and felt good about its combination of good runout, moderate angle, and the amount of climbing provided. If all went well, I knew that this would start a snow climbing addiction for them.
Given the fact that this would be the first snow climb Mike and Mike (Wiz) had done, making sure it was in good weather was fairly important to me. This weekend presented the first combination of good weather and availability we had for a the past 2 months, so we jumped to take advantage of it.
We were supposed to meet up at 345am, but because I am chronically 10 minutes late to everything, so we all met up at the Stegosaurus Commuter Lot just outside Denver at 355, and headed off. We were really happy with our choice to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle as Wiz drove his truck over snow banks that would have incapacitated my little Honda Fit. We stopped to pick up a climber who was walking the road before reaching the snow bank that blocked the road. The best news of the day was the fact that we made it to the turn off for the lower lake, and the Dam was within spitting distance.
This photo was taken after our climb, but the red circle shows the place where 4x4's had to call it quits
We got our gear together, and headed out at 6am, making short work of the hike up the road. When we got to the dam, we quickly decided to climb up the rock instead of donning our crampons there and climbing up the snow next to the dam. I was certain if we did, we would end up dry tooling until we reached the start of the climb. As we approached the bottom of climb, we could see a large number of people already making their way up Cristo.
mike getting his crampons on before hitting the couloir
Wiz taking a quick break while I messed with my camera a little ways up
The climb started on solid snow that stayed with us through most of the ascent. The most interesting moment of the day was a climber who was glissading down the lost control and took quite a dramatic tumble and flipped completely out of control for at least 50 feet. He was very lucky that he came to a stop before he hit any rocks, and that he walked away without any major injuries. His stopping point was only 20 feet from where we were taking a quick break at about 13,000ft. We made sure he and his partner had things under control before Wiz climbed up to collect the gear that he had lost on his way down. We asked several times if he was alright, and if they needed any other help before moving on. This served as an excellent reminder that no matter how straight forward a climb is you can loose control and potentially get very hurt with little or no warning.
Mike and Wiz climbing to lower half of the Coulior
Looking down to the dam from the same spot as the above photo
As we approached the rock band area, the effects of the sun baking the snow pack was starting to have an effect. I took a second to knock out a couple photos of a large CMC group that was making their way past the false summit at the top of the couloir.
The CMC Group heading over the false summit
Mike taking a quick break at the rock band area while I jacked around with my camera again
Mike and Wiz heading out for the last section to the summit (just past the false summit you can see in this photo
We pushed ourselves to get as quickly as possible to the summit given the softening snow pack. We were greeted at the summit by a nice breeze, and a well deserved break. One of the CMC climbers was kind enough to take a photo of the 3 of us before we headed down.
Left to Right: Wiz, Mike, Me at the Summit
The short time we had spent on the summit had given the snow enough time to soften significantly. We down climbed to about 13,200ft before beginning our glissade. It did not take long to get down, and unfortunately, Mike lost his crampons out of his pack at some point during the lower part of the glissade, but we did not realize this until we were back at the truck. Overall, it was a great first snow climb of the spring season on Cristo!
A photo of the Coulior from the dam taken after we got down
Wheeler Peak as seen from the dam
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):