| North Face Main Couloir - Kicking off 2010
Peak: Missouri Mountain
Route: North Face, Main Couloir (moderate snow)
Distance traveled: 9 miles
Elevation gained: 4,500 feet
Participants: stevevets689, James
Winter 2009/10 was a long one. By the time of finals week at Western State College, I had a grand total of two hikes for the year. I had spend the last month of school daydreaming and planning for the summer... mostly, what I would climb and when. At last, with school officially out of the way, it was time to get out into the mountains again. Missouri Mountain's North Face was something I had been looking at for a while, and I was itching for a good snow climb. My friend James had just bought his first ice ax and was ready to start getting some use out of it. We spent some training time around the currently frozen Mill Lake to get James dialed in on his snow skills and then, Thursday night, headed up to the Missouri Gulch trailhead to make our base camp.
James on the trail before dawn
Friday began at 2:30 AM when my alarm went off. I crawled out of my tent, made sure James was awake, and we were ready to go by 3:00. We cranked up the switchbacks as best as we could but they became slick pretty quickly and slowed our progress. Yaktrax or snowshoes would be helpful here. Once past the switchbacks we were able to cruise up to the first creek crossing, crossed easily, and then route finding got a little more interesting. We did our best to follow boot tracks, and sometimes had to follow ski tracks which twisted and turned their way through the trees. The snow was solid all morning and we felt no need for snowshoes. Once we broke timberline we were able to cruise up the basin more easily, and I elected to stay a little high on the east side of the drainage to avoid the creek and any willows that might dwell down there. Eventually, however, we found ourselves traversing very slick snow slopes so we dropped a bit lower and continued onward. We turned our headlamps off as light started to appear over the mountains.
A little bit of early light
Missouri's North Face has come into view
A closer look. We went up the couloir that leads almost directly to the summit which Bill describes in his route description
We decided to drop our snowshoes and poles. In hindsight, we should have stuck them upright in the snow or marked a waypoint on James' GPS, but we figured they would be easy enough to find thanks to the big rock we put them next to. Oops. Please, if anyone finds two pairs of snowshoes and poles in Missouri Gulch, let me know. And yes, this was stupid of us. Moving right along...
James a little before sunup
First light on the North Face
About to climb up to the bowl under the North Face, the sun started to hit the high ridges
The sun was gracing the tops of ridges and peaks by the time we reached the little snow slope leading up to the bowl under the North Face Couloirs, and by the time we were at the base of the couloirs the majority of them were now sunny. It was about 7:00AM, not really hitting my goal time but we were both out of shape. That said, we were both already pretty tired out, so I knew it would be a long climb up to the summit. We strapped on the crampons, broke out the axes, and started up on James' first snow climb.
James ready to start up
Looking up the couloir from the start
James just before giving me the lead
James led halfway up the apron below the couloirs and I took over from there. There was some wind drift in places but it was never super deep. Still, I was punching in steps, not needing to front-point my crampons much of the climb. There were also some thin slabs here and there but I usually punched through them easily. I could guess an inch or two of thickness. I was conscious of the sun beating down on the snow and kept gauging the snow to see if it was softening, and it held firm for the whole climb. We did have a scare at one point when we suddenly heard a loud rumbling, but realized within a couple seconds that it was just an Air Force jet flying low over the mountains.
This shows the steepness. Not too bad
James taking a break at the entrance to the couloir
Looking up at around 13,400 feet
Another quick break at around 13,600 feet
Looking up from around 13,600 feet. We crossed to the left to climb in the cooler snow in the shade
Looking back at James near the top of the couloir
It took two hours, but at last I reached the top of the couloir. James asked how far it was to the summit, and I looked up. This was about 20 feet away. I like couloirs that bring you directly to the top. I took a quick video of James topping out at the top of his first snow climb and we walked up to the top. We only stayed there for about ten minutes thanks to the cold wind, and I wanted to get our glissade done before the snow started getting soft. The east side of the C Couloir gets more shade in the morning so I figured we should be ok, but still, better safe than sorry.
Looking North towards La Plata and Mount Elbert
Harvard and Columbia
The Southern Sawatch (Princeton, Yale, Antero, Shavano and Tabeguache)
Looking back down the couloir from the summit
We hiked a short distance along the ridge and came to the top of the C Couloir. The very top part had some talus poking through the snow so we carefully picked out way down the side of the couloir to more continuous snow. We then stopped, took our crampons off, and looked down our glissade route. James wanted to go first in case anything went wrong, and he was a bit nervous at first but after a couple practice arrests he started zooming down and I heard a whoop come from him as he increased speed. Once he went around a corner and out of sight I started down after him, and quickly remembered how much fun long glissades are. I stopped halfway down the couloir to make sure James was making it down safely and giving him a minute to stand up and get out of the way before I continued the rest of the way down. The angle shallowed out and we walked the rest of the way down the apron. We then got one more small glissade down a little snow slope after the apron and then started walking out to look for our snowshoes.
Looking across the top of the couloir. The C is about 60 feet away
James starting his glissade
Looking back up the glissade track
As I said before, we couldn't find them. We spent over an hour looking, but no such luck. I know they are on the east side of the gulch, a ways before the sign for Missouri's standard trail and quite a ways above treeline. We glumly decided that it would have to be our day's sacrifice to the mountain gods and started hoofing it down the drainage. Of course, the mountain gods' game had just begun. Once we arrived at treeline, the post-holing started. My left hip was already sore from the climb and every hole just agitated it a bit more. I could almost hear the mountain gods chuckling at their own joke. At least the post-holing was restricted to the area between treeline and the creek crossing, though we decided to don crampons for the switchbacks since they were still very slick. We made it back to the car at around 1:45 PM, but probably would've been there around noon if we had found our snowshoes right away.
Looking back at Missouri Mountain from the hike out
Mt. Belford's standard route
Overall, it was just a longish approach to a fairly basic snow climb. James never voiced any nervousness about the couloir's steepness, and the glissade was well controlled by the both of us. It worked well as an intro to snow climbing, though we were both pretty exhausted afterward. The snow condition was acceptable and I think it will improve with more thaws and freezes. As a final note, it felt good to kick off my top 100 list for the year with a tough climb, bringing my total to 30. Here's to 40 before the end of 2010!
To see more photos from this climb, please visit my web album at: http://picasaweb.google.com/coloradoclimberguy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):