Peak(s):  "Lackawanna"  -  13,823 feet
PT 13,660 B  -  13,660 feet
Date Posted:  05/31/2021
Date Climbed:   05/29/2021
Author:  daway8
Additional Members:   Carl_Healy, HikesInGeologicTime
 Lackawanna 1st snow climb + 13,660B plunge descent   

While we didn’t die, I'm afraid this will be a cringe-worthy report in many respects and not at all a model for the ideal way to do a snow climb. This Lackawanna couloir was the 1st snow climb for myself and Geo and the 2nd for Carl. Think of it more along the lines of “you can learn a lot from a dummy…”

We did at least do some things right while at other times we came close to ending up in a SAR report. I’ll try to lay out honestly what went right and not-so-right so that others getting into snow climbing can hopefully learn from both what was good and bad.

Starting Trailhead: Pull-off 1.2 miles beyond La Plata Peak Trailhead

Ascent: Lackawanna Southwest Gully (entered the couloir at ~11,000ft)

Descent: over 13,660 B and down heavily modified Lackawanna Northwest Ridge route (plunge descent)

Ending Trailhead: North Lake Creek Trailhead (except for the poor sucker who drove the Jeep...)

Mileage: ~5.15mi for Geo and Carl, ~8.45mi for me - includes jogging/walking/groaning 3.3 miles down Independence Pass to my Jeep.

Gain: ~3,750ft

Included in this report will be:

  • Brief recounting of our self-arrest practice the evening before
  • Description of the no longer quite "in" snow climb up Lackawanna
  • Recounting our crazy all-terrain plunge descent down Lackawanna Northwest Ridge
  • Lessons learned (the good, the bad and the ugly) by some rookie snow climbers
  • Overview of the gear used and evaluations thereof
  • Our times

Look for large, bolded section headers if you want to quickly scroll to a certain section.

21055_14
Iconic photo of the day - going up Lackawanna.


Backstory

Geo and I knocked out a bunch of 13ers/14ers this past winter but nothing that would be considered a snow climb - mostly just modified versions of summer routes as opposed to any couloirs etc (which aren't typically safe in winter anyways). I teamed up previously with Carl on Humboldt and between the three of us we started talking about possibly doing a snow climb. We had all already acquired the gear but none of us had really put it to use.

A few different opportunities had presented themselves for us to potentially get some invaluable mentoring from more experienced snow climbers on the forum but for various reasons none of those panned out except for Carl having just done a couloir route up Quandary with someone else (we actually had an invite for the day of this climb from Tornadoman to go do a nearby couloir but it was a peak Geo had already done and since we had already planned out everything for Lackawanna we opted to stick with that - partway through the day we all agreed we should have accepted that invite...)

So when it came down to it we, for better or worse, went forward with 2 snow climb rookies plus our leading expert, Carl, who had one entire snow climb under his belt.

Oh boy, strap on your crampons folks - this is going to be about as bad as you might predict (well no, it could have gone much, much worse in many, many ways - but this was bad enough).


Self-arrest Practice

One thing we did right - or at least partly right - was to get together to do some self-arrest practice before the climb. Non-ideal aspects of this training included that it was done the evening before our climb, it was done on mushy snow on a short slope and our instructor was a YouTube video (I warned you this report would be cringe-worthy in many places).

21055_01
Carl diving down head first for self-arrest practice.
21055_02
Carl planting his ice axe and successfully swinging around to arrest position.
21055_03
Carl coming to a stop - perhaps not an A+ on form but got the job done.


For any other rookies out there who want some guidance, the video we used was this nice summary by Glenmore Lodge: Ice axe arrest / self arrest

The guy has a fun accent and gives a very nice verbal and visual description of the basic self-arrest positions and shows both slow motion and real-time views of what to do if you're sliding feet first or head first on either your stomach or your back.

Despite the poor quality of the late evening snow we were able to practice all these various positions and successfully spin ourselves around with our ice axes as modeled above by Carl.

We started, as you always should, without crampons on but keeping our feet up in the air as if we did have them on (putting your feet down on firm snow while sliding with crampons can lead to injury, flips, etc). Upon doing some initial practice and seeing how soft the snow was we decided the risk of hurting ourselves by sliding with crampons on was really low in the current conditions so we did some more practice runs with them on (knowing that if we slid the next day it would likely be with crampons on).

Of note, Carl used step-in crampons while Geo and I used strap-on crampons (see bolded "Gear Used" section near the end of the report for a more detailed gear list). One thing that Geo and I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY should have done first but for unfathomable reasons managed to somehow overlook was learning how to properly strap on on our strap-on crampons (duh!). After the fact I found this excellent video that summarizes a cleaner version of what we eventually blundered into: How To Put On Crampons


Lackawanna Southwest Gully

This gentle class 2 couloir is an excellent one for beginners since it has a very short approach (especially once Independence Pass is open), it's not too steep (for a couloir), flattens out for a bit in the middle and is well documented with GPX tracks and route descriptions available on this site (I will NOT be uploading my GPX for reasons to be explained later - the ones with the route description are much better).

21055_04
Approaching in the dark through avy bent trees.


As stated in the route description, there's a very small pull-off about 1.2 miles up the road from the La Plata Peak trailhead. From here it's a relatively short walk to the base of the couloir but note that you have to pass through a zone where avalanches have laid down a bunch of the small trees (avalanches which, by the way, run down this couloir in winter so be very, very careful about doing this route too early - other reports talk of triggering small avalanches while doing this climb). This section was quite annoying at the time but paled in comparison to what was to come later in the day...

It's very important to start early on a day like this when the temperature was going to get well above freezing and after a not so deep freeze the night before. Had we sunk in at all we were going to abandon the route but despite much less than ideal conditions the snow was very firm so we decided to cautiously proceed, entering the gully at about 11,000ft (it looked like the snow continued further down but we started a little too much to the NW to hit the base).

21055_05
Geo heading up the dirty couloir.
21055_06
Carl bringing up the rear.


One very disturbing thing which almost made us cancel was that we could hear water running in some places. But we tested the snow and concluded it was very firm so we decided to risk going up, alert to the possibility that we might possibly crash through. As such, we stayed spread out a little in just in case the snow gave way at some point. Thankfully it never did but we did hit a couple points where it was melted out completely and we climbed the dirt next to the stream.

Those melted out sections also alarmed us and there was some debate for a while about whether or not to proceed. Carl wanted to continue but Geo thought we should turn back. I was undecided but leaning towards wanting to go on. Carl volunteered to scout out ahead and test the snow past the melted out section. He concluded it was still very firm and supportive so I came along and Geo reluctantly followed.

21055_07
Melted out portion that we bypassed on the right.
21055_08
Carl forging ahead to test the quality of the snow.


While walking up the snow I didn't have any of the problems people talk about of slicing your clothes with your crampons. But I opted to leave them on for the short section of walking over mostly dirt next to the stream and upon taking a big step up over rock heard a loud RIIIPP! Dang - I was doing so well up until then - oh well, it was time to replace those snow pants anyways...

One key blunder to confess, which I alluded to earlier is that neither Geo nor I had adequately researched how to properly attach our strap-on crampons. Not too surprisingly we both had at least one crampon fall off in the lower part of the couloir. In my case I basically stepped right out of one of my crampons without even noticing until I put that foot down and it slipped as if I were on solid ice. Thankfully my crampon stayed put on the snow and I was close enough to some rocks to hobble over and reattach it.

Geo had trouble a couple times and I eventually came over and we consulted about strapping techniques. Between what we had both figured out I came up with a method of attaching them which was much more secure and similar to the method described in the video I linked near the start of the report (here it is again since this is so very important to do correctly: How To Put On Crampons).

I'm still kicking myself for not having put more effort into making sure we could properly secure those strap-on crampons prior to the climb - that should have been so profoundly obvious and that could easily have been disastrous. We basically lucked out that we both had them fall off early on and were able to figure out something on the fly.

21055_09
I did great walking in crampons until the dirt bypass - luckily it only ripped open the outer layer of my snow pants.


The route description says the max angle on this route is about 37 degrees. I pulled out my handy BCA slope meter (inclinometer) a few times and in one lower part of the gully measured it at about 30 degrees.

Higher up I tried to measure again but just putting the inclinometer on the dents and divets gave numbers anywhere from 15 to 55 degrees. If I had cared more I would have maybe held my ice axe flat across the slope to get a better average reading but I trust that the 37 degrees number is probably accurate, though I imagine it could vary a little depending on how the snow piles up in a given year.

21055_10
A quick slope measure in the lower part of the gully.
21055_11
Later on I pulled ahead for a while. You can get an idea from Carl's upright stance that the angle isn't actually too extreme.


I had been a little worried prior to the climb about just how steep it was going to be since I had never been up a couloir before. Carl, our team expert with one whole couloir completed before (on a similar couloir on Quandary) said his previous one was steep but not too crazy.

Once I got up on it I concluded that it was definitely pretty steep but in no way was it anything even remotely near to feeling like I was hanging on the side of a snow covered wall as I got the impression of from seeing some people's photos on other couloirs.

I had been looking forward to glissading down the couloir however I was a bit apprehensive about that once I was actually up near the top of the steep part. Had we descended the same route I'm pretty sure I would have given it a go anyways but given the partly melted out condition of the couloir and the rapidly rising temperatures (the sun started hitting the snow just as we were reaching the final steep section) made us decide to take the "standard" route down the northwest ridge (a decision we were later to regret, though it's hard to say how bad that couloir might have been once it warmed up...).

21055_12
Higher up with Carl now leaning forward a bit as the angle increases.
21055_13
Off to our left we took careful notice of where some rollerballs had come down from the cornices in that area.


It was actually handy in some ways that we were doing this at a point that was otherwise probably a bit late in the season for this particular route since there were a couple rock outcropping along the way that made very handy spots to stop, rest, shed layers, etc.

21055_15
Me taking a break on some exposed rock. I believe this was around 13k.
21055_16
Carl coming up some steep snow past the main couloir.


Once we finally reached the top of the couloir we quickly hit a mix of rock and snow and so took our crampons off.

21055_17
Almost to the summit with a mix of snow and bare rock.
21055_18
On Lackawanna looking over to point 13,660 B just above the bowl on the left with Casco and others just right of center.


Point 13,660 B

Upon summiting we decided that the couloir we had come up would be even more risky to descend with the sun now blazing on it and since there was another 13er on the way to the Northwest Ridge route I was happy to be able to grow my peak count by two peaks instead of just one for the day.

21055_19
Carl and Geo consulting before heading over to 13,660 B.
21055_20
We took separate glissade routes off the summit of Lackawanna.


We got a short glissade off the Lackawanna summit followed by basically a stroll over to point 13,660 B.

21055_21
Carl and Geo went on ahead as I was snapping photos and taking notes.
21055_22
Looking back up at Lackawanna from partway over to point 13,660 B.


The only excitement on the way over was a little psychological drama from some pretty massive cornices that put us slightly on edge about staying well away from the edge. Having had a close call one previous time I made sure to call ahead to Carl (who was back in the lead at that point) to be sure to stay nice and far back away from the edges. We all put on microspikes once we got on this section of snow since we went along a couple mildly steep sections in order to stay well back from the cornices we knew must be lurking nearby.

21055_23
Carl with a commanding lead in the distance followed by Geo then me.
21055_24
I overtook Geo and caught up to Carl as he neared the cornices.


While I'm sure they were nothing compared to many places, these were some of the largest cornices that I had come in that close of proximity to. While I knew from the surroundings that they must surely be present I was a little surprised once we swung around up onto the summit as to just how far out they were sticking in some cases.

21055_25
Geo following our tracks staying away from the nearby cornices.
21055_26
Looking back with slightly wide eyes at how big those cornices were and feeling glad we didn't get any closer than we did.


The actual summit of point 13,660B is a small little rock with some pretty dramatic exposure on the backside. Being an unranked 13er Geo snubbed it and refused to go fully up to the summit (wanting instead a more noble peak as a 50th 13er). But Carl and I were happy to add this little peak to our lists.

21055_27
A wider view looking back at the cornices we had passed near by.
21055_28
Me on the very exposed summit of 13,660 B.


There were cornices both before and after the summit as well as all over the place on nearby ridges. The angle shots below really highlight how far these can stick out and how deceptive they can be if you're approaching them head on. This only magnified my respect for these treacherous features.

21055_29
One more view of those cornices leading up to 13,660 B.
21055_30
Looking in the opposite direction at yet more cornices - great illustration of why you need to stay WAY far back!


The All-Terrain Plunge Descent

After we started down from 13,660 B we had delusions of a simple, straight-forward, easy descent down a clear, standard route well described on the site and with GPX tracks loaded as a guide...

Oh boy were we in for some surprises!

21055_31
Carl and Geo following me down some steep snow on the descent from 13,660 B.
21055_32
Easy scramble down the ridge.


At first it seemed to all go as planned and be what we expected; easy-peasy stroll down a ridge with a couple minor little scrambles and a short glissade or two. You might note in the pictures the growing cloud cover - a fact that didn't escape our attention. Since we didn't want to be in that couloir when it started raining, that was another reason for us to hurry down this "easy" class 2 route...

21055_33
View looking down the ridge.
21055_34
Carl doing a short glissade.


Our first warning sign that this was not going to be what we expected was when the route plunges off the side of the ridge and goes straight down some ridiculously steep tundra which was undoubtedly the original location to have inspired the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill." We had to concentrate to avoid coming "tumbling after..."

21055_35
Geo starting down the tundra.
21055_36
This was seriously steep tundra - and this is the standard route?!?


Then the steep tundra transformed into steep, loose rock of variable size and looseness - the kind that's really quite irritating to go down, though not the worst that I've encountered by any means.

21055_37
Looking down at the dirt road going to the North Lake Creek Trailhead off Independence Pass - still a LONG way to go - looks deceptively easy so far...
21055_38
Coming down loose rock.


Then the steep, loose rock starting having steep snowfields mixed in that were alternately either slick or postholey.

21055_39
The descent became a mix of loose rock and snow.
21055_40
One of multiple glissades on the descent.


Eventually we ended up a little off from the GPX tracks and did some glissading to try to get back down to the route. but we we postholing so much and so deeply that at one point I invented the "lateral glissade" where you lay on your side and roll on top of the snow to move horizontally across the snow until you get out past any rocks/trees below and can then do a normal glissade down the slope.

21055_41
This was where we did a lateral glissade followed by some traditional ones.
21055_42
Carl at the end of a glissade with an expression that pretty much sums it up...


We ended up doing multiple glissades throughout our descent. Sometimes they were fun. Other times, like above, they ended in a batch of willows, or worse, a pile of rocks. Our self-arrest practice came in handy here. Thankfully the snow, though very prone to postholing, was consolidated enough that we didn't trigger any slides.

21055_43
Carl using his ice axe on a more serious glissade.
21055_44
Geo merging into my glissade path.


We tried at various times to get in line with the GPX tracks we had loaded and at one brief point come upon bare ground where we could just make out a trail in the dirt. But overall the GPX tracks seemed to take us along impossibly steep hillsides that were becoming increasingly impractical to cross along given how the snow was loaded on them.

We resorted to all sorts of techniques to try to mitigate the irritation of endless deep postholing and, although we we sometimes successful with crawling, rolling , kneeling, etc we all too often ended up still punching through and in even more awkward positions than plain old postholing.

Also, I soon realized that the water-proofing on much of my gear was pretty much worn away - a fact that could have turned into a very major problem had we been stuck out there even longer than we were. As is, I ended up pretty soaked all over, which had never happened to me before.

21055_45
Carl demonstrating the kneeling walk technique to minimize postholing..
21055_46
Me discovering why Carl was doing the kneeling walk technique.


Then came probably the most treacherous part of our whole day - I don't have hardly any photos because this was a rare time when it was getting dicey enough (and aggravating enough) for even me to put away the camera and just get through it.

We had been trying hard to follow the tracks we had loaded, thinking there must surely be a decent descent along that way even if the actual trail was too covered to be visible (there were only a few scattered spots of bare ground with abundant snow where knee to waist deep postholing was the norm). The map showed there was an old mine around as well as a cabin so this made us more sure that there must be a halfway decent route to those.

But the more we tried to follow the tracks the more we got onto increasingly steep slopes with unmanageable snow to try to plow through.

I recounted to Carl a past near-disastrous experience above Bear Lake, of all places, where I had tried to short-cut down a snow covered slope and used that experience to argue against plunging down the crazy steep hills/cliffs. But after a while the route just got so ridiculous that I ended up being the one to plunge off what was more or less a cliff, grabbing trees and sluffing into to big piles of snow to control my descent (kids, don't try this at home!).

We were suffering "trailhead fever" at this point (the reverse of summit fever - basically an incredibly strong desire to get this freaking hike over with and return to the trailhead).

Once we started to get down to where the snow thinned out then we started slipping on steep mud and then we started hearing waterfalls in the distance. But we had already violated many times over that key and critical rule of climbing that says don't go down anything you can't come back up. So we were recklessly throwing ourselves down whatever we encountered just to get down off the mountain.

21055_47
Carl in one of the less dramatic plunge descent locations (didn't have my camera out for the more dramatic...)
21055_48
A riskier glissade when we were tired enough of the descent to not really care.


We later decided that this "plunge descent" was probably more dangerous than anything we would have encountered trying to go back down the couloir. There were a few spots where I leaned forward and even I, in the midst of trailhead fever, decided it was too dangerous but fortunately in those cases we were able to traverse a little bit horizontally until we could again plunge down in an only semi-suicidal fashion.

It's a result of this treacherous descent that I'm breaking with my normal habit and NOT uploading my GPX tracks from this hike since I don't want to take any risk of anyone else thinking this is an ok way to descent. As I stated at the start of this trip report... while we didn’t die... it had more to do with luck than skill (and perhaps my guardian angel working overtime again).

You might note that the slope shading in that general region (we weren't too far off from the normal trail) is "only" 35-45 degrees. But keep in mind that is more of an average value and doesn't account for small features and snow loading up between trees, over boulders, etc. I didn't attempt to actually measure what we went down but I'm pretty sure there were a bunch of little bursts that were well above 45 degrees.

21055_49
Finally back on dry ground with an obvious trail.


It was an amazing relief to eventually get back down to dry ground and an obvious trail but the journey wasn't quite over yet... eventually we came to a stream crossing - minus the crossing. We searched along the stream for a while but, not seeing any viable crossing, finally decided we were ready to be done with this and just slashed across (I was already soaked anyways). Geo wasn't as eager to wade into the stream and so diverted further north and apparently eventually found a more tolerable place to wade across.

Carl and I were then tromping through willows that on some other day might have been a major hinderance but we were so totally done with this day that we were beyond caring and just bashed straight through them like a couple of rabid bulls in a china shop until we finally crashed out on an established trail.

21055_50
Carl coming up to the stream with no crossing - we eventually said forget it and splashed across.


We must have been quite the sight to the folks at the North Lake Creek Trailhead - dripping wet on dry ground with ice axes still in hand and helmets still on our heads (no way were we going to stop at that point to put gear away), plus me with torn snow pants and us both having on way more layers than the current air temperature called for.

We plopped down at the trailhead and started peeling stuff off as we waited for Geo to catch up.

The Not-So-Grand Finale

Then, for the not-so-grand finale, I got to walk/jog 3.3 miles down Independence Pass, though I swear somehow that entire stretch is practically flat and in some places even seemed to roll uphill a bit. There was often only perhaps 1 foot of a shoulder along the edge of the road and that 1 foot would occasionally swap from one side of the road to the other and then sometimes cease to exist altogether.

It wouldn't be surprised to learn if it might actually be illegal to walk along that stretch of road (it was certainly unsafe!) but at that point I didn't care. If a cop had stopped me I was planning to say "Go ahead, arrest me - please! Or give me a ride to my Jeep, or just shoot me - I don't really care, take your pick..."

There is also almost nowhere for a vehicle to pull over to pick someone up - maybe 2 or 3 small pull-offs along that stretch. Next to one I briefly held out a thumb to try to hitch-hike (wasn't sure if that might be illegal and knew it was likely unsafe but again I just didn't care...)

There were no takers however (perhaps it was something about seeing a deranged looking man in torn snow pants with an ice axe that hindered my ability to catch a ride - or maybe they could actually smell my body odor from a distance. But at any rate I didn't have to end up with any debate as to the validity of my climb due to not completing the whole thing on my own two legs (and my two partners both suffered enough that I say their trailhead to trailhead trek is for sure still legit even if they ended at a different trailhead than they started - that's just a simple carpool).

I covered that 3.3 miles in 44 minutes - not bad considering I did it in wet boots and torn snow pants with a full pack including ice axe and helmet hanging on it after having gotten up at 2am to drive to the trailhead and hike all day!


Lessons Learned

So as I said near the start of this report, we did at least do some things right while at other times we came close to ending up in a SAR report. So what are some of the lessons learned from all this? There's probably a lot more to add (and I imagine there might be some show up in the comments) but here is a partial list of some things good things we did and some not-so-good things.

Good Things We Did:

  • We all brought along and used ice axe, crampons, and helmets (essential for this route).
  • We did a group practice session on self-arrest from all the main positions including head down plunges on our stomachs and backs.
  • We loaded GPX tracks both for the couloir and the alternate descent route we ended up using.
  • We started early enough to be almost at the top of the couloir before the sun hit it.
  • We checked the CAIC forecast and confirmed the avy danger was low for the morning (and noted it increased to moderate for the afternoon).
  • We checked the weather forecast and noted the small chance of rain/thunder starting at noon and gradually increasing (amazingly it never came).
  • We spread out during the questionable early parts of the couloir so that if something happened we hopefully wouldn't all be taken down together.
  • We stayed well clear of the cornices that we had to pass going to point 13,660 B.

Not-So-Good Things We Did

  • The two of us who used strap-on crampons failed to adequately research how to properly strap them on (this was a HUGE blunder that could have been a disaster).
  • We went up a partly melted couloir with water flowing around/under portions of it.
  • Our "plunge descent" was incredibly risky and an absolute violation of "don't go down what you can't come back up."
  • Our self-arrest practice was last minute, on poor snow and without a experienced instructor (unless you count YouTube...).
  • On the descent we were flirting with avy terrain several times - thankfully nothing slid.
  • I tore a large gash in the outer layer of my snow pants with my crampons.
  • At least two of us got our boots and clothes drenched (it was warm enough to not matter greatly but had we got stuck out there longer...).
  • We occasionally spread out a little too far, including during our treacherous plunge descent.

So overall, it was a dangerous but valuable learning experience. I think I'll probably make a greater effort to connect with more experienced climbers before attempting any further snow climbs because, although I learned a lot through this experience, I'm also aware that there are quite a few things that I still need to learn about this new aspect of mountain climbing and how to make safe decisions in this kind of terrain.


Gear Used

Crampons/boots

Carl had the best setup with Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro Step-In Crampons on La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX Mountaineering Boots. Verdict: Carl's crampons never came off and never felt insecure (and his feet stayed dry even after wading through the stream!).

Geo and I were both using Black Diamond Contact Strap 10 point Crampons but with regular hiking boots (mine being perhaps overly flexible Keen's). Verdict: Geo and I both had at least one crampon pop off early on but no further problems after we improved our method of tying the straps on. However, I was getting uneasy as the slope angle increased and called out occasional reminders to Geo (and myself) to keep an eye on your crampons. You might be able to get away with a flexible sole boot on a relatively low angle couloir like this one IF you very securely attach the strap-on crampons but I'm not going to risk anything steeper with strap-on crampons unless I can find stiffer soled boots than don't kill my feet (I have clamp on crampons for my Scarpa boots but those boots kill my feet...)

Ice Axes

Geo and I both had straight shaft ice axes (mine a 70cm Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe that fits my 6'2" frame well). Verdict: worked great during both self-arrest practice and that actual climb (but I lack any reference for comparison).

Carl had a Petzl Summit Evo curved shaft ice axe. I didn't debrief him on it but it seemed to work just as well as what we had, though at times it seemed maybe it was a smidge too short for this relatively low angle climb.

Verdict: both styles of axes seemed to work fine for this route. I admit to not knowing enough to offer better commentary other than you really, really should carry an axe ice if you get into snow climbs (I now understand much better why people freaked out so much about my Chicago Basin report a ways back...)

Helmets

Didn't bother to query the helmets being used but mine was a Black Diamond Vapor climbing helmet. Verdict: Again, here the type of helmet (other than not being a bicycle helmet) is probably less important than having protection - we didn't experience any rockfall but saw plenty of evidence of previous rockfall and I've read recent accounts of injury due to rockfall in couloirs.

Mircospikes: For the portions immediately before/after point 13,660B we used microspikes since crampons would have been overkill but we wanted a little extra grip on sometimes slightly steep snow. Mine wear Kahtoola microspikes. Verdict: Microspikes have become for me a year-round essential, good on steep (but not too steep) snow as well as loose dirt/scree.

Waterproof clothing

So both Geo and I had on really old snow pants (I think in part due to anticipating the wear and tear of potential glissading) but this kind of bit us in the butt, so to speak, once we came down the alternate route with crazy postholing and wallowing in deep snow as we both got really wet. Carl had generally newer gear and stayed a lot dryer overall. Verdict: waterproof gear (that's not worn out or lost its waterproofness) becomes more important in spring when wading through melting snow.


Our Times

This route was a bit more absorbing than some so I didn't get the same level of break downs I often do but here's what I have:

4:20am start from pull-off ~1.2 miles past La Plata Peak TH

5:40am start up the snow in the couloir

8:15am take a break on the exposed rock around 13k

9:30am Lackawana summit

9:41am on towards next summit

10:12am start up 13,660B with microspikes

10:26am summit of 13,660 B

2:30pm at trailhead 3.3 miles from where we started

2:51pm I start jogging/walking down the road

3:35pm I finally reach the Jeep then drive back up to pick up the other two




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

Self reflection...
05/31/2021 10:29
...is a good thing, and sprinkled with self-deprecating makes it entertaining.
Honestly, I did not cringe or think, omg, at your outing.
I think most of us go through these types of learning curves, and even continue to encounter these days.

Crampon and boot selection -- I have a pair of Grivel aluminum strap-ons, and they fit great on my Technica hiking boot, but if I use those crampons with my La Sportiva hiker, they're a poor fit -- because the heel rocker isn't suited well for that crampon.

Your decision to do a group self arrest practice, I think, was a good move even if you used a you tube vid, because you still attempted to learn and practice the skills.

A few of us were coming down a snow filled gully on S slopes of Cirque yesterday, and we could hear running water too. But snow was firm, didn't have a hollow feel or sound, so to me, I felt safe. I did try to stay out of the center, or where I thought the low of gully was (ie, where the actual drainage flow was).

Lastly, it's a little counter intuitive, and is common to happen, but leaning into a slope isn't the ideal scenario.
I suggest to try and keep your weight above your feet on slopes, and you can try changing the angle of the shaft of axe a little, so it's slightly uphill from perpendicular to slope.

And that descent is tough in fall dry conditions too!


Carl_Healy

At Face Value...
05/31/2021 11:53
...a day in which one "completed a snow climb to summit but then decided against descending the gully and instead took the standard route down" sounds like a sound decision that would avoid some unnecessary risk.

Definitely not what happened here...

A reminder that "Standard Route" doesn't necessarily mean "safe route"...


Carl_Healy

Two other items
05/31/2021 14:05
1) If it wasn't obvious from this report, avoid the standard route like the plague until all below treeline north facing snow melts
2) I can't recommend having a satellite communicator enough. They're expensive yes, but the peace of mind of being able to check in routinely, particularly on the sketchy bits, seemed invaluable.


ltlFish99
Excellent report
05/31/2021 14:46
That was a great report with wonderful photographs.


HikesInGeologicTime

Maybe just avoid this peak entirely for a while
05/31/2021 17:26
The snow's not going to last long in the gully as overnight temps approach and then surpass freezing, and enough said about the current status of the standard route.


HikesInGeologicTime

And thanks, d_baker!
05/31/2021 17:29
I'm not sure I'm going to be doing anything on snow for a while unless I have skis with me, but I'll be sure to practice my stance if I do!


Tornadoman

Fun report...
05/31/2021 20:09
Well written and informative. Some days it seems everything goes well in the mountains, while sometimes it seems just the opposite. Glad you succeeded on getting safely off the mountain (and with a successful summit too)!


Sbenfield

Totally
05/31/2021 20:34
Rad!


Robbie Crouse

Quite an Outing!
05/31/2021 20:41
Thanks for this, David. I'm sure the next time will go smoother. Out of curiosity, were the front points the culprit for the pant rip? I've heard the same thing about crampons shredding pants, but I wasn't sure if it's just any of the points or specifically the front points you need to watch out for. I've still yet to make the jump from spikes to actual crampons.


daway8

Thanks
05/31/2021 21:14
Thanks all for the feedback and encouragement!
@d_baker - now that I stop and think about it your leaning comment makes good sense when you ponder the physics involved but it is rather counter intuitive when you're up there.
@Robbie - I suspect the front points but it happened so quickly and while my eyes were looking up the slope where I was stepping that I'm not sure. That wasn't a motion I would have ever made on the couloir itself so I suspect I would have been fine if not for that "off-road" segment of dry ground. This was my first significant use of actual crampons - never felt the need for more than spikes before but I would have been extremely uncomfortable in spikes on this one if they even worked at all.


d_baker

Side, secondary points
05/31/2021 21:37
Are usually how one clips their pant legs.

Btw, the photo coming off the summit is pretty cool!


mtngoatwithstyle
Good to know!
06/01/2021 17:04
I was in Indy Pass yesterday and saw your tracks up the gully and kept thinking who may have been up there this weekend!. I did the standard route a few years ago in Summer conditions and yes, it is steep and not very fun but an amazing mountain and views. So glad you guys made it back ok. At some point as I was reading it looked like Apocalypse Now... and I was hoping none of you would injure yourselves. Thank you as well for the tips, they truly helps to those of us who have not ventured yet into coloirs.


cottonmountaineering

nice job!
06/04/2021 10:40
everyone is always learning in the mountains no matter how long they've been out, keep at it


CarpeDM

Good report
06/04/2021 11:19
I didn't think your trip was too cringe-worthy either, but constant self-assessment and noting areas for improvement is always a good thing.



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