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Peak(s):  San Joaquin Ridge  -  13,460 feet
Post Date:  05/18/2010
Date Climbed:   05/16/2010
Posted By:  aHudge

 The San Joaquin Couloir   

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 (
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.

skinning up

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

Rick, mid-traverse

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

so soft....

waiting for the sluff to pass...

...and back at it

...loving 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

yours truly

still working...

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

celebratory drinks!

our route

Awesome day, and the couloir was just as good as I had thought it would be.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

A round of applause     2011-01-18 20:38:48
Classic line, great report.
Yes, your switchbacks were rad


Excellent     2010-05-18 07:40:30
Woohoo!!!!! Great photos, conditions and skiing. That‘s such a classic line and now I have good beta for hitting it next season.

You‘re right about the angle, people look at it from Gold Hill and it sure looks steeper than 40s or low 50s. I think you‘re right that it‘s probably upper 40s.

I‘m so jealous!


Nice!     2011-05-02 08:23:28
That has to been one of the nicest looking couloirs in the state. Way to seek out such a great line. I‘m jealous too (especially since I was sitting in Durango Saturday night brainstorming ski ideas for Sunday and totally forgot about this one!).


Awesome     2010-05-18 08:42:55
This just got put on my ‘to do‘ list. Way to rip it up!


Sick!!!!     2010-05-18 09:27:39
Beautiful line. Awesome, awesome!


lives up     2010-05-18 09:41:51
to its expectations and then some. Looks like you guys had some great snow as well. Looks better than I ever imagined it, my buddy and I are headin back down there this weekend more or less, might have to take a detour on sunday. Awsome report, incredible.


Great Day!!     2010-05-18 09:42:22
Alex, that was a great day dude!!! And a fantastic write up too. I had a great time, although if I do this one again.....I‘d be tempted to ski it when the resort is still open!!!


Thanks Everyone!     2010-05-18 11:58:09
Awesome day, for sure. Highly recommended.
If anyone is thinking about doing it this season, get it soon.. the snowline is already around 12,000‘ on the S aspects (except for in the gullies, where it reaches down a little farther).


Great photography!!     2010-05-18 14:36:04
Looks like a great trip. Well done!


Makes me wish...     2010-05-18 15:07:24
I had brought my skis to my field job in the Telluride area. I was sitting in the Telluride library this weekend looking at all that snow... sigh. Definitely on my list now, excellent job!


nice     2010-05-18 18:15:52
classic line in a fantastic of my favorite lines to ski. Well done.


that looks like so much fun!     2010-05-18 20:36:14
I think I saw the same picture on the same thread and started dreaming about it too!


Awesome Line!     2010-05-21 14:21:26
Way to get after this line dude, looks super fun. I‘ll definitely have to check it out sometime.


Approach     2010-05-21 18:01:13
Looks like you got that in perfect conditions!

Question: why the Ophir approach? 4500‘ vert seems like a hell of a slog. Wouldn‘t it make more sense to come in from Telluride and climb the couloir? Just curious.


Luca....     2010-05-22 07:33:41
that‘s a good question - we went back and forth on that a bit.
If you approach through the resort (and its not open) it seemed to be pretty much the same amount of gain (you start at high 9000s or 10,000 ft just like Ophir), and more mileage.

We opted for the shorter, more direct route.
If the resort were open - that would be a different story!

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