| Banana Couloir(s) Rocky Mtn Nat‘l Park
Peak - Mt.Chiquita (13,069ft) Southern Mummy Range, Rocky Mountain Nat‘l Park
Vertical - 2,500 climbed, around 2,200 skied
RT - 5 miles from Visitors Center to summit, 2.5 miles from bottom of Banana Couloirs to car at Endovalley
Earlier in the week, a friend from out of town showed up on my doorstep and wanted to do some hiking. After a dayhike around the flatirons in Boulder, she expressed some interest in checking out Rocky Mountain National Park. As we were heading up Trail Ridge, I noticed a very prominent couloir heading up the southern slopes of some mysterious peak in the south end of the Mummy Range. When I got back home, I searched long and hard for beta on that aesthetic line. After some browsing, I pikced up my "Front Range Ski Descents" book and noticed that exact same line. It was part of Mt.Chiquita and the guidebook author claimed to have never actually skied it. While I‘m sure many others have done this route, it intrigued me nonetheless.
Here is what I was looking at from Trail Ridge...
The description sounded like an easy approach, but the hike out was anything but. It was referred to as "moderate deadfall". I would love to sit down with the author and have him explain his definition of "extreme deadfall" cause from the bottom of the couloir to the car was cruel and unusual punishment.
Anyways, Chris and I both drove up since we needed a car shuttle for this ski. We stashed his Outback at the Endovalley picnic area around 4:30am and made our way for the recently open Visitors Center further up the road.
We were presented with a nice sunrise....
And a very blue sky at the parking lot of the Visitors Center...
We began the hike down the snow covered Fall River Rd and put on our skis for the descent to Chapin Pass TH not too far below. We had a surreal view of the park above the clouds...
Chris skinning down the road with the sun rising over the mountains..
We put on our skins at the TH and began our ascent. We were in the trees for less than an hour before we reached an opening and saw our objective, Chiquita and the Mummy Range.
I was thoroughly anticipating my virgin trip into the Mummy Range, this place really is designated a national park for a reason. To have a region like this in your backyard is a blessing to say the least. Climbers definately get to see this place in a much different light than someone jsut driving along, taking pictures of Elk all day. We don‘t have to spend the 20$ to drive on a road, we don‘t deal with the crowds and we get to see some of the most pristine wilderness in the state, not to mention some of the most aesthetic peaks. Chris and I experienced all of this sunday.
Some scenics of the Mummy Range and beyond -
Looking North along the western edge of the Mummy‘s
Looking SE from the saddle between Chiquita and Chapin
Looking NW towards the very snow covered Never Summers (Richtofen, Static, Nokhu Crags)
A litte note on the snow. The park range, along with many other parts of the state, had been getting rained on lately, making the snow, atleast down low, very hard to travel through. There was basically zero consolidation around treeline and this made a summit ski descent highly unlikely, but we both agreed to atleast summit and scout.
Once at the saddle, we headed North towards Chiquita, or atleast what we though was Chiquita, on a faint, but obvious trail. We traversed around what we thought was Mt.Chapin, only to find out the peak we were headed for was Ypsilon. Luckily, Chiquita is right next to Ypsilon and when we reached the saddle between the two, we were only 200 feet below its summit.
South Face of Ypsilon, looks like some interesting routes
Chris checking out the NE face of Chiquita.
Minutes later we were on the flat summit of Chiquita with clouds quickly rolling in.
Summit of Mt.Chiquita @ 13,069 feet
After some nacho cheese bugals, toffee encrusted cashews, some sweet and spicy trail mix and a stong lemonade, we made our way back to our packs a litte bit away to begin our descent.
The snow began a bit below the summit and we did some recon of the reclusive Banana Couloir, which all of a sudden wasn‘t so apparent from the summit. The snowfield was easy to find, but we had 2-3 different couloirs below us.
Here‘s a shot of the obvious couloir seen from Trail Ridge road, which neither of us believed was the couloir. It looked really thin in the middle and not as intense as described.
To skier‘s right, there was a much steeper and exposed couloir heading SW off the summit with a large cornice at the top. Simply put, this one looked much tougher and more interesting than the actual Banana Couloir, so after a quick discussion, we decided to make a go for it. The snow felt much better at this point and we both felt confident it‘d make for a decent ski.
Chris entering the couloir
And navigating his way through the very soft and wet snow
We quickly found out that our assesment of the snow quality was a tad off to say the least. Each turn was a monumental effort and the sloughing was more like small to mid-sized slides. The snow was so heavy, a turn would send slough down the slope, creating deep runnels and we‘d have to make sure to shake the snow off the tops of our skis to prevent it from pulling us down the slopes. Needless to say, we were extra cautious.
Anyways, about 3/4 of the way down, we got cliffed out and had to climb back up about 20 feet to find continuous snow.
Chris fighting the snow about 1/2 way down
Looking up the chute, right about where we got cliffed out.
We found a small chute skier‘s right and we were able to find an exit to this maze. After skiing some moguls through a large avy debris path, we finally made it to the bottom. We were both relatively relieved to be down that thing and were now looking foward to the long haul out of there to or car at Endovaley through over 2 miles of thick deadfall. Whomever said this was "moderate deadfall", don‘t be mistaken, its unnaturally thick deadfall. You‘ve been forewarned.
A look up our line in green, we called it "Banana Split"...
And a look at what we set out to ski, but never did, the actual "Banana Couloir"
Those little white boxes with text describe the various routes down the South Face. Here‘s a look at what we had to look foward to.....
The hike out ended up being just as much of an event as the climb and ski itself. After reading about what to expect, we were ready for the worst, we prepared for it atleast, so we couldn‘t end up getting frustrated. Chris even threw a couple F-bombs out there, which is rare. The deadfall was very thick and very long and it got progressively worse and worse. It was your typical bushwack. Skis getting caught on every branch, poles getting caught on every root, slipping on every downed tree, etc.
It was both a beautiful area
And very unforgiving
But for every nightmarish route, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel
Right after this clearing, we had about another 200-300 feet to descend. It reminded me of that scene from "Perfect Storm" when George Clooney sees the clouds clearing and the waves getting smaller, only for the storm to get worse. We basically descended down a waterfall, then some thornbushes and finally reached the Fall River Rd, which led us to Chris‘ Subaru for a grand total of 9.5 hours.
We were both miserable, physically, for the majority of the climb, we felt like we had lost a fight in a landslide when we were done. Despite this, it was probably the most fun, most aesthetic ski descent I‘ve done to date. We were both in for an adventure and thats exactly what we got and we couldn‘t have found a better place for it than an inaugural trip to the Mummy Range.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):