| The San Joaquin Couloir
the San Joaquin. Photo: Bill Middlebrook (sorry I had to use your photo, we never got a good view)
Miles: Not very many.
Gain: 4,500 ft.
Number of Gear Changes: 10.
Time: 9 hours.
Crew: Rick, myself.
I've been wanting to ski the San Joaquin for a long time. I believe it was sometime early 2009 when I found out about the couloir in this thread (http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=17424).
I'm a sucker for clean, aesthetic lines. And the San Joaquin is the granddaddy of clean, aesthetic lines. So I figured I might was well give it a go. After talking Rick into joining me (which wasn't hard), we made plans.
Our plan was to drive to Ophir, throw the tent down next to the car, and start early the next morning. All went well, and we were hiking by 4am on Sunday. We only had to boot on dirt for 45 minutes or so before we could start skinning on continuous snow. Fortunately, we were able to lay in some sweet switch backs going up to the ridge, and skin all the way to 12,800. Then we only had to boot 100-200 vertical feet to gain the ridge. The ridge itself was surprisingly spicy, with pretty huge cornices covering most of it. We found one weakness in the line of cornices which allowed us to top out safely. At this point we'd be going 4 hours and gained a little over 3,000 ft.
climbing to gain the ridge. Check out our switchbacks below, they are rad.
Instead of traversing along the ridge to the top of the couloir, we dropped below the ridge so we could stay on the skis. That worked for most of the way, until the slope became pretty steep and side hilling wasn't quite as comfortable as booting. So, with the skis on our backs, we gained the final bit to the top of the couloir.
Traversing over to the top of the couloir
We then arrived on top of our goal. What a view.
at the top.. looking down into the couloir
The snow in the couloir was amazing, with somewhere between 6-8 inches of very soft, recycled snow. Most of the couloir was pretty wide (20 feet?) and as I recall there were 2 chokes where it got down to about 8 feet. The grade might be high 40's or 50 degrees.. I'm not really sure, we never measured it. Definitely not as steep as the photos taken from Telluride make it look, but still steep enough to get the heart rate up. The snow was so soft when we were skiing, it was probably a lot easier than it would be in other conditions. According to my watch, the couloir itself (not including the apron) was about 1,200 ft of vert. And now for the photos:
Rick, off the top
me, dropping in
me again, loving it
waiting for the sluff to pass...
...and back at it
Rick's turn to hit it
not much room in here
great turns by Rick
...nearing the end
After popping out the bottom, we traversed back toward the ridge and gained the final 1,000 feet or so on skis. At the outset, we were planning on booting back up the couloir, but after seeing the mellow valley below the ridge, we quickly concluded that it would much easier to gain that elevation by skinning and not booting. In the end, we were more than happy with that decision.
and out. the couloir dumped out where there is a gap in the rocks above and to the right of Rick
the route back up to the ridge
back to work
a quick break
By now it was getting warm, so we were a little anxious to get back down. Although we probably could have skied directly off the ridge, we decided to down climb 50' or so, just to get past the sketchy steep/rocky/corniced area. After that quick down climb, it was smooth sailing back to the car. The first 1,500' of vert was pretty good snow, but the dust layer was definitely noticeable from about 11,800 and down. Sandpaper on skis… not good.
...and up and over the ridge
Rick enjoying the ride back down to the car
walking back out, with our route in the background
Awesome day, and the couloir was just as good as I had thought it would be.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):