Peak(s):  Horseshoe Mtn A  -  13,898 feet
Date Posted:  04/16/2021
Modified:  04/19/2021
Date Climbed:   04/11/2021
Author:  123tqb
 Couloirs are Cursed   

Couloirs are Cursed

  • Date: 11 Apr, 2021
  • Peaks: Horseshoe Mtn
  • Route: Southeast Slopes
  • Mileage: 7.5mi
  • Vertical: 2500ft
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Partners: Alexis, Ben, Michael

I had come out to Fourmile Creek previously in March of 2020 to snowshoe with a friend from back home. We'd tried to go up Horseshoe Mtn via the East Slopes route, but decided we didn't have enough avalanche knowledge to trust ourselves going into dangerous terrain without experience, so we (rightly) turned around. Flash forward to this season. I was now formally avy trained, and after buying the Fritz Sperry guidebook for the Tenmile/Mosquito Range, I happened upon a line that I hadn't noticed the last time I was in the area: Boudoir Couloir. Now that the spring skiing season had begun the line would be fading fast, so I quickly planned an outing involving some of the usual suspects: Alexis, Ben, and Michael.

Considering how late we were to our objective last time (link), we wanted to get a head start on the sun and depart the car at 5:00. To do so, we would have to leave Boulder at 2:30. That was absolutely not happening. I suggested car camping at the trailhead. After some discussion, we opted to leave the day before with just enough time to set up before sunset. Ben drove Michael and I, while Alexis took her own car so we would have enough space for everyone to sleep. I brought two bivies, one for Michael and one for me, and two extra sleeping bags, because Alexis and Michael didn't have their camping gear stored in their dorms. No trip happens without someone forgetting something, and this one was no exception. I had brought my backpacking sleeping pad, and reminded myself minutes before leaving to grab the extra military-issued pad for Michael to use. Of course I forgot it. Argh! I gave up my comfort privileges for the night and we all settled into our sleeping bags with alarms set to 4:30.

I actually slept pretty well, all things considered. Just some sore hips from sleeping on the dirty, rocky surface that comprises CR18. I woke up naturally three minutes before my alarm, we ate a hasty breakfast of oatmeal, and drove up the remaining way to the Leavick site. I never expected us to make it that far up the road, which was a very good sign! From the parking spot I could already see our line, and I was excited!

21004_02
If you peer through the trees, Boudoir Couloir can already be seen!
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The road was pretty dry, but after the turnoff (this photo) it was filled in enough.

We had parked almost all the way to the first turnoff, and we made quick work of the skin up the road. The second turnoff came rapidly, with only a transition or two. We ended up leaving the car around 6:15 (we wanted to warm up our toes from the night before getting out of the cars), but we were already within close sight of the cirque by 7:00.

21004_04
The road was filled in well enough. Sheridan peeks out above the trees.
21004_06
We reached treeline early. The snow was patchy but there.
21004_03
Michael skinning up slippery melt-freeze crust. Pretty sure he wiped out right after!
21004_05
Alexis and Ben get a first good glimpse of the cirque.

Now that we actually had eyes on Boudoir things were not looking so great. The guidebook listed this line as melting out early in the season, and we were definitely seeing why. When they say it's gone early, they really mean it! It seemed that if we felt like picking our way through exposed rocks it could go, but the apron was looking too thin for our ski bases to still be intact if we did decide to ski it. For a bunch of newbie backcountry enthusiasts, it wouldn't be a comfortable ski. But the good news about Fourmile Creek is that there is a slew of options if one line doesn't look good! Looking around, we noticed that there was another line on Horseshoe that looked loaded, but wasn't listed in the guidebook. I had previously noticed it while mapping on CalTopo, and seeing it in-person only further confirmed that it was indeed a real, possible descent. We decided the Southeast Slopes of Horseshoe sounded like a good goal. It looked like we would follow pretty much the same approach as Boudoir, just angling lower and further left than originally. So we went for it! We had to do some transitions every now and then to cross dry patches, but it was overall a very straightforward approach. There was some icy downhill skinning, and the wind stole some articles of clothing, but we made it to the base of the climb early and ready.

21004_07
The group convinces me that the line isn't easily skiable anymore this season.
21004_09
Ben slips on his way down the icy hills. Downhill skinning ain't easy!
21004_08
The cirque is out of frame to the right, and the line is just off-center.
21004_10
Michael is starting to lag a little, which I don't blame him for with those heavy skis.

After crossing some flats (strange for how hilly the rest of the approach was), we came upon the choke. The line is bordered by two patches of rocks here, and the angle is definitely the steepest of any other part of the descent. We began skinning uphill, but quickly realized that we'd have to transition to crampons to gain any purchase on the icy surface.

21004_11
Alexis awkwardly skis down into what I'll call "the plateau."
21004_12
Michael demonstrates why crampons are a necessary tool as he nears the choke.

Now with spikes on our feet we made quick work of the start of the climb. The snow was still super firm, so much that I used German technique nearly the whole way up. Ben and I led the way, with Alexis not too far behind, and Michael bringing up the rear a ways back. He had forgotten his inhaler that day, and we all know that altitude is very hit-or-miss on how much it affects breathing. Despite this, Ben and I had found a spot to take a quick snack break, and when Michael and Alexis made it to us the snow was still rock-hard. We were making great progress.

21004_13
Ben looking back down at the bootpack, Michael coming out of the choke.
21004_14
A solid snack would hopefully give us enough energy to make it the last 1000ft.

Ben pointed out at this point that there was a cornice to avoid up near the ridge, so we angled north, towards the rim of the cirque. Overall the cornice wasn't too big a concern, as it looked pretty small, but we'd rather not risk it to find out! It was a lot slower-going at this point, but the snow didn't seem to be changing as fast as we anticipated, so we were still doing well. Michael told the rest of us to go on ahead, as he would move about 100 steps then stop to rest for a bit, and repeat. The wind picked up a bit towards the top, which was expected, but it never became unbearable. Just enough to throw off your balance for a second. As we neared the ridge I began to get overly excited, so I picked up the pace. The resulting views above the cornice did not disappoint!

21004_16
Alexis takes a turn leading. The wind picked up a bit.
21004_18
The cornice is only a little one. I could see the Sawatch now, so I hustled to the top.
21004_17
If you go climbing with me, expect every visible peak to be pointed out by name.
21004_15
Michael is just a speck on the face, just out of the shadows. What a trooper.

I had found a break in the cornice, and upon arriving at it I noticed crampon tracks! Alexis had mentioned that somebody had skied Boudoir Couloir about two weeks before us, and there hadn't been much snow since then, so it's possible it was theirs. Or some other group. Who knows, we didn't see another group for the whole day! I crested the ridge and right in front of me there was an old, wooden structure. Perfect! We'd eat lunch in shelter from the wind, make a quick jaunt for the summit, and ski down with (hopefully) softer snow! Ben and Alexis came up right after me, and we went inside the building to drop our packs and get out our food. Michael was still behind, but not fifteen minutes later he also made it to the ridge.

21004_19
This beat-up wooden building is right next to the summit, and right above Boudoir.
21004_20
We stored our skis and packs, and I shoveled out a bench on the snow.
21004_21
Feels good to finally be on the ridge!

We ate lunch and chatted for a while, then made our way for the summit. From the building it was mostly level to the top, and the wind had died down slightly, so it was a painless effort. It was a sunny bluebird day and we could see almost every range in Colorado! We took a self-timer selfie then headed back to transition downhill.

21004_23
Solid snow to the summit meant we could leave the crampons on!
21004_22
Summit selfie!

We took our sweet time transitioning. The snow was still pretty firm and didn't seem to be softening all that much. However the wind was at the point where putting skins away was getting difficult, so we decided on our course of action. Ben picked out a spot that we could see from the top, and skied down the easy slopes. Alexis followed him, then I got a little hop off the cornice, and Michael finished it off. The snow was rough, but not overly variable, so the skiing still went pretty well! Our next spot to stop was where we had taken our snack break on the way up, so we got to carve down the solid, low-angle snow before hitting the choke. After stopping real quick I went down to a point where I could video, turned back, and watched everybody make their way through the now-slightly-softer snow. For the future I need to remember my actual camera, but my phone sufficed.

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Michael
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Alexis
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Ben

We made a beeline for the gully across the plateau, and the choke gave us just enough speed to get there. Everyone made sweet turns (except for when I almost ate shit towards the bottom), with no complaints from any of us. What a great line! I'm still surprised nobody has documented it, at least that I can find. Michael had CalTopo open, and he seemed to have a good idea of how we could ski the whole way out. We followed his lead down a drainage towards the lower road. And wouldn't you know, the snow down here had completely turned to corn! I bet if we'd waited a while longer on the summit our snow would have improved immensely, although I'm not complaining about what we ended up getting, since we still had an awesome day. Michael led us across (or more like "through") the creek to the road, where we had to avoid quite a few dry patches, but all-in-all we made it back to the car in one piece, with plenty of time to drive through Fairplay in search of food. Great day, and great gas-station pizzas!

21004_28
Planning out the route back to the car.
21004_27
Route-finding never goes to plan. Michael puts on a grin after crossing the creek.
21004_29
Let it be known that Michael skied straight across this.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
mcgrawt9

Crows fly together
04/17/2021 08:51
I thought this was BlackCrows add for a minute. Fun day!


dubsho3000

Boudoir
04/18/2021 08:15
Thanks for the report - sad to see Boudoir in such bad shape!



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