| Streetwalker Provides a Happy Ending
May 17, 2009
South Arapahoe Peak 13,397 ft. CO Rank NR
North Arapahoe Peak 13,502 ft. CO Rank 253
Streetwalker Couloir ~9.0 miles, 4,000 feet of gain
Partner: Scott Rogers
Scott and I had our ideas for a snow climb narrowed down to the RMNP and IPW areas but when we were told the road to the Fourth of July TH was dry, it was an easy decision. We had our hopes on the Skywalker couloir but both of knew that it would probably be too early in the season for a safe attempt. Always the optimists, we figured we'd get up the trail and see what there was to see – we were fairly certain that we could find something to occupy our time back there.
We arrived at the Fourth of July Trailhead about 5:00 am on Sunday morning. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous day and the snow was still hard enough where we didn't need snowshoes for the approach so we strapped them to our packs and were on the trail by 5:15. This would be only my second time in a couloir so I packed in a short rope and Scott brought some ice pickets just in case I felt the need to use some protection. Unfortunately, neither of us had much luck following the trail and, shortly after we entered the wilderness area, we found ourselves hiking through a thick pine forest. We learned later we were well above the trail high on the slope on the east side of the drainage. After a while (both of us forgot watches so we had no concept of time) we arrived at the mine site, but it took much longer than expected.
Neva and Jasper
We were able to find the trail just in time to leave it. We negotiated the steep slopes towards our goal for the day. Once near the base of the couloir, we noticed the exits were corniced, the upper portion was ready to peel away at any moment, and the central chute was filled with avy debris. It didn't take long to realize that we would not be going up Skywalker this morning. Neither of us was particularly drawn to the gentle slope to the saddle between South Arapahoe and "Old Baldy" leading to the standard summer route, but the couloir to the right of Skywalker – Streetwalker – seemed to be in pretty good shape and that gentle slope would serve as a safe descent route.
Skywalker (photo taken later in the day)
Skywalker to the left, Streetwalker to the right. (Ascent path was from the bottom left of the photo cutting up and to the right beneath the first rock band)
We stashed any gear we would not need for the climb and quickly made our way to the base of the couloirs. We noticed several fractures in the slope along the way but the sun had yet to hit that snow and it was still frozen solid. Once in the couloir, we stuck to the sides closest to the rock in case we didn't like the conditions. Streetwalker turned out to be a very enjoyable sustained 35 or so degree (I'm guessing) slope. Once at the top, we still had plenty of work to do to get to the actual summit. I thought it would be right there, but we had another 500+ vertical feet before we topped out.
Me in the Couloir
The Traverse from South Arapaho
Our first glimpse of the traverse did not look promising. We thought it may be windblown, but it was anything but. We saw a large cornice running almost the entire length of the ridge with snow piled on top of the rocks and the entire eastern aspect was covered with avy paths. But, with a perfect forecast and in no hurry to get anywhere, we felt we'd go exploring and turn back whenever we felt uncomfortable. We both agreed that were not pressed to get the northern summit so we could have no problem bailing if needed. I thought we had about a 10 percent chance of completing the traverse when we left the southern summit but there is no harm in trying it out. The western side was relatively gentle and held some safe terrain so I still held a glimmer of hope. The first two "knobs" along the ridge were easily navigated and we found ourselves at the first crux, the often-photographed 10-foot angled slab. The bottom half was dry but the top half held a good covering of snow. It proved challenging, especially considering I was wearing crampons for only the second time. Once past that obstacle, we stuck to the ridge, negotiated the second crux tower with little trouble and reached the third and final crux move - A large wall that we decided to tackle head on. This little move would challenge my comfort level to say the least. It was a 60-70 foot snow climb that was a consistent 60 degrees or more and darn near vertical for the last 5 or 10 feet. All that remained was a small 8-foot rock wall and a short walk to North Arapahoe.
Me Climbing the First Crux
Me along the Traverse
Looking back on the ridge from the base of the steep couloir
Scott in the steep couloir
Me in the steep couloir
This last wall was tricky but we had definitely been on worse. Still, it required concentration and just as I tried to pull myself up over the crest, the rock that was supporting my weight gave out. I was able to collect my balance and keep the rock on the wall until I got out of its way and let it fall into the snow bank under me. Much to my relief, I found a cairn when I peered over the wall and there was the trail from the standard route that would allow us to bypass the steep snow climb. As we relaxed on the summit I heard a few sounds that resembled creeks flowing. I figured it was water running beneath the snow through the rocks but I would be proven later to be wrong.
Scott relaxing on North Arapaho
The tough thing about this traverse is that it is a mandatory round trip. After completing the traverse, it took me a few minutes before I regained my concentration to get back across the ridge. The trip back was pretty uneventful for the most part. We had our footprints to follow and we knew the tough spots and where they could be bypassed. At one point I heard the same running water sounds and we peered over the eastern side to see a wet slide running down the face. Nothing extreme, it kind of resembled a lava flow – just a slow ooze of slush down the mountainside.
I debated with myself if downclimbing the slab crux move would be easier than descending around it to the west but the snow was awfully slushy and the recent avalanches in the area talked me into staying on the ridge. Scott, of course, with his climbing experience had no issue with the slab and, much to my surprise, I found the snowcovered descent easier than the ascent.
Me hiking the ridge
Scott hiking the ridge
Scott with the traverse behind him
Scott hiking the ridge
After the slab, the rest of the ridge is pretty straightforward. I went ahead so we could get a few hero shots of us along the ridge that turned out pretty good. After regaining the southern summit, we packed our crampons and made way towards the saddle with "Old Baldy." Unfortunately, Scott didn't have waterproof pants on so he couldn't take advantage of some perfect glissading opportunities. My first run was a good 600 vertical feet of vertical immediately followed by another 400 or so feet. We swung a right to the west and walked the gentle slopes back to the gear stash. I got in another 3 or 4 glissades before it was just too shallow of a slope to get any movement.
Avy paths on Quarter to 5 Peak
Once back at the gear stash we put on our snowshoes and looked around the valley in amazement at the amount of movement on the slopes – also admiring an incredible ski line off of Mount Jasper that someone took advantage of at some point during the day. There seemed to be fresh avalanches in nearly every direction. I was very confident in the terrain we were on, but very glad we didn't get too adventurous. We followed some ski tracks that we thought would lead us back to the mine and home. Once again, we ended up much too high on the ridge and negotiated steep slopes in an attempt to reach the mine site. It seems every descent turns into an epic and this would be no exception. After a few unsuccessful tries to ski in my snowshoes we got low enough in the valley to reach the trail. We followed the seemingly never-ending mining road to the trailhead, arriving at almost 5:00. This was a good day. We pushed ourselves (safely) to our comfort limits and gained valuable experience - Both of us remarked how much more comfortable we were scrambling in crampons by the end of the day. I can see why people love this couloir stuff so much; I'm already starting to line up another for next month's climb.
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