| Pikes Peak Ski- Railroad Couloir
At the end of April my wife and I found ourselves at a training center near Monument, CO. With the massive north face of pikes easily viewable, I started planning a descent and climb of the Y. But with my wife giving birth to our first child and a bunch of other things, I hadn't been able to put a trip together until now.
My friends Nathan and Julie were excited to join in on the plans, but after Nathan's scare on Conundrum(TR by Benners) last week, we decided that the Railroad Couloir would be a better choice for the adventure. We got one more climbing buddy, Michael, and left Denver Tuesday around 6am. We made good time to the Pikes road gate, which sadly doesn't open until 7:30 (a time which the ranger guy assured me was set in stone). It turns out he was a softy and we made it through the gates at 7:15. Score! After arriving on the summit we scoped out the conditions:
Y- East Branch- Looking a little rough on top but still doable in its current condition. Appeared to be beginning to runnel just a bit.
Railroad- Much better conditions in general, but some rocks are starting to creep through the snowpack in places. The rocks are both obvious and avoidable, however.
The Railroad Couloir is the easternmost one on the north face, and it is pretty simple to locate by crossing the cog tracks east and descending a short ways. The RR ski is ranked advanced by Dawson, but probably never exceeds much more than 40 degrees, at least it didn't seem like it to me. We dropped into some pretty unforgiving, yet workable snowpack and started turning our way down.
Me about ready to drop in:
Michael working the first shaded area:
Once we were beyond the shadow of the tight drop-in, the snow was softening nicely and we enjoyed some excellent corn turns as the couloir zigs gently to the east then back west to meet up with the Y couloir at the bottom.
Me strolling into a safety zone:
Nathan and Julie coming to join me:
We could have kept skiing a significant distance more, but the sun was out and I was not too excited to start climbing up from deep in The Bottomless Pit. We chilled for a while and enjoyed a little food and water at the exact bottom point of the V where the Y- Couloir meets the Railroad. The highlight of snack time was Nathan's bag of gummy bears. At least, it was the highlight for everyone else. I got distracted and somehow forgot about the goodness that is those tasty red ones. Nathan reminded me eventually but by that time I was already in climbing zone. Oh well.
Our halftime resting point: Y on the right, Railroad to the left.
We began climbing at 10:00 on the dot. I wanted to ascend via the Y, but decided I would save that for next time around when I get to ski it. The ascent was decent, but I am not at all in love with the ski first-climb second plan. The ski was great, but we spent the first third of the climb post-holing. Michael and I took turns kicking the steps/hiking in post-holing hell.
The second third was pretty much a mix: 20 feet of strength, 20 feet of soft not so supportive snow. I will say this though: stay away from those aspects that face a bit to the east because for obvious reasons they are mush.
The remaining third of the climb was pretty solid and went much more quickly. We topped out on the Couloir at just after 11:30 and had to explain ourselves to the enormous bunch of tourists eating "world famous donuts".
Michael enjoying the triumph:
It was almost like we were aliens from another planet. Michael could not resist the pleasant donut aroma and went in to grab a few, but came out disappointed. The line was "like 400 people long." Bummer. Welcome to summer tourist season I guess.
I am a bit bummed to have to put the skis away, but it was a good season!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):