| Deep powder in the Savage Couloir
Savage Peak - 13,139ft
Route - Savage Couloir
Skiers - Me, Alex and Rick
RT/Vertical - 13-14 miles, 3800-4000 feet
Had another phenomenal day in the Holy Cross Wilderness, 2 for 2 in the last year for the record. I remember noticing a thread AHudge (Alex) had posted earlier last week regarding the condition of the Homestake Rd outside Red Cliff. I figured I'd shoot him an email and see if he one, had done it or two, if he hadn't, see if he'd be interested in joining. Luckily he was game, as was his buddy Rick from Golden, so we had a group of 3 skiers and 1 snowshoer in my old buddy Kiefer. Unfortunately, Kiefer had to bow out the night before due to some car troubles. I was disappointed cause we hadn't been out on a climb in nearly a year, but I understood how car troubles can be incredibly demoralizing, specially when you live in the northern Front Range. Too bad it wasn't a few weeks earlier when he was living in Vail, but I guess that's the way things go sometimes.
Anyways, I was pumped to meet some new BC ski partners. I arrived at the Missouri Lakes Rd around 5:20am, Alex and Rick already in gearing up mode. A snowdrift had blocked further passage for our Subaru's, so we pulled off to the side of the road approximately 2.5 miles from the summer trailhead. We were able to don skins permanently about a ˝ miles up the road, and made quick progress to the trailhead, took us about 40-45 minutes.
Alex skinning up the Missouri Lakes Trail
About another ˝ mile down the Missouri Trail, we ran into some cat tracks (machine, not animal), which we followed on an ascending NW route up to the Wilderness Boundary sign, where we entered the woods. Had we known entering the woods was going to be such a commitment, I'm not what we would've done differently, maybe mentally prepared ourselves a little better. Before we got there that day, we were under the impression it would be 8 miles RT and 3200 feet of elevation gain. Upon reaching the car at the end of the day, we completed a 13 mile, 4000 foot vertical gain day in 9.5 hours. A good time in my book, but the toll the thick forest took on us definitely made the day more interesting, ultimately in a good way. It was my first time climbing and skiing with Alex and Rick, but I feel confident enough to speak for the group by saying we kept our heads on a swivel all day, utilized maps efficiently, climbed efficiently, kept vibes high throughout the day and made short work of a classic line on an obscure peak, deep in the heart of the HCW.
Anyways, back to the climb. When snow covered, I'm not gonna bother trying to guide anyone through that forest. Bottom line, follow Missouri Creek to the best of your abilities and find a bridge to cross, directly North from the Wilderness Boundary sign. There is a pt. 11,010 that sticks out, obstructing easy passage to Missouri Lakes. The basic idea is to traverse the eastern slopes of this point until you get around it, then hug the northerly aspects in the trees and make your way west.
Rick crossing the bridge we found to cross the creek
I wonder if anyone has hit this pillow?
Another fun pillow. There were an abnormal amount of these all over the place
We kept our bearings by eyeing the northern ridgeline of Missouri Lakes Basin, finally reaching treeline a decent amount of time after we had thought, but we made it nonetheless. We finally got our first view of Savage Couloir through the trees.
1st view of Savage
We skinned up into the basin, making a beeline for the deeply inset, 1300 foot couloirs. This thing was a sight to see.
Approaching the couloir
Around the base of the couloir, we shouldered our skis, grabbed some grub, took out the point and the axes (I highly recommend both for this climb, I did not put my crampons on, but probably could've used them the last 50 feet) and began the climb.
Gearing up for the climb
Alex led the first part of the apron and the initial sections of the chute itself. Dave Cooper recommends to stick to the left side of the couloirs, for rock fall reasons. This was clearly evident as the right wall of the couloirs was large and intimidating, with some cornices forming along the ridgeline. Had it been sunny, this would've been good advice to listen to. Lucky for us, it was mostly cloudy for the majority of the climb. We were quasi-postholing on the left side, mainly due to all the spindrift snow being deposited from the left wall. Great for skiing, not so much for climbing. We made the decision to transition over to the right side, since the kick stepping was so much better over there.
Some shots of the climb :
Eyeing some potential future lines
ok, so it wasn't t his steep, but this was a great shot by Alex.
Alex making good progress up the couloir
climbing over the crux, around the cornice near the summit
Rick w/ the route underneath him
Alex negotiating the cornice. Starting to get pretty damn steep.
Around the middle of the chute, Alex wanted to take some shots of Rick and I climbing below. It almost seemed like he was jogging up the couloir and kindly and enthusiastically kicked steps all the way to the summit. Rick and I were grateful to say the least.
The top 50 feet of the couloir got pretty sporty. We had to find a weakness to the left to avoid the cornice that had formed along the summit ridge. Alex topped out and said it wasn't bad. Rick and I reached it shortly after and Alex then admits that, upon his second impression, it was pretty steep. I can attest to that, I'm sure Rick can as well. I could hear Rick's heart beating right behind me, definitely got my nerves goin. Very fun though, grateful to have an axe, and Alex's kicksteps. This is where points would've become essential, but it became committing so fast, I never thought to put them on till it was too late. Lesson learned.
From there, it was short stroll to the all of a sudden, windy, flat summit. We had some great views of the Bells as well.
Bells and Pyramid
We didn't spend too much time on the summit, mainly due to the wind and we were all definitely ready to ski, as well as anxious to find a sane entrance to the couloir. We skied down to the way we climbed and contemplated for a minute. We knew there was another entrance with a safer passage. We'd lose probably 100 feet of skiing in the couloir itself, but agreed to check it out. I skied down first to our other entrance, with Rick and Alex following. The turns were actually pretty solid, considering all the wind. We reached option B and were pleasantly surprised. It was comparable in steepness to the other entrance, but with less fall consequences and we'd soon find out, better snow.
Rick skiing off the summit
Couloir entrance fee
I'd put this slope at 50-55 degrees with phenomenal powder turns and an aesthetic intro to the Savage Couloir. What ensued was powder turn after powder turn, I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story….
Alex's powder turn
My powder turn
Rick's powder turn
Upon reaching the apron, the fun did not stop there. We all skied the apron in synchronicity, ripping turns all the way to treeline. Our fatigue did not show in any of these turns, it looked like we were all still having a hell of a time. Once we finally reached tree line though, reality set in and we were sad for it all to end.
sad to see it end
The traverse out wasn't as bad as expected, at least for me. There were some pillows to huck off through the woods, as well as some creeks to fall in….
one of my skis is underwater
It was gravy after crossing the bridge. We found the cat beaten down road minutes later and gained momentum, more or less, all the way back to the summer TH.
When we got back to the car, Dale's Pale Ale and Modus's were enjoyed by all. It was pretty obvious this was one of the better couloirs any of us had skied.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):