Peak(s):  Pikes Peak  -  14,110 feet
Date Posted:  09/11/2010
Date Climbed:   06/30/2010
Author:  mattdecoste

 Y Couloir on Pikes Peak  

Most of my great 14er adventures start with a big breakfast at the Omelette Parlor (home of the 1/2 price omelette before 7 a.m.) in Colorado Springs. This hike was no different. My climbing buddy, Ramsey Ross, had wanted to climb the Y Couloir on Pikes Peak for some time and finally talked me into it. Since we both live in Colorado Springs we knew this would be a short day hike due to the fact that we opted to pay to take the toll road up to Devil's Playground as Gerry Roach suggests in his guidebook and avoid a long hike in from either the Crags or Barr Trail.

We made it to the Pikes Peak Highway toll-road booth off of U.S. HWY 24 right when it was opening at 8:30 a.m. and only had 4-5 cars to wait behind. Soon we were on our way up this awesome road that leads you directly to the summit of Pikes Peak. We stopped at the Crystal Reservoir and snapped a pic of our chosen route.

Route overlay from a distance

I zoomed the camera in and took a shot of the upper part of the Y Couloir route we would be attempting as well. Looks pretty steep from here. Roach's guide book says it gets over 50º at the top and I'd believe that.

Upper route overlay

Since neither of us had ever done this route before and neither of us were carrying a GPS we found it a little difficult to follow exactly along with Roach's route description as to where to park and start hiking. We actually went all the way to the summit before realizing we must have passed the Devil's Playground parking area so we turned around and headed back down.

Rumdoodle Ridge from Devil's Playground

We soon found the right spot where an obvious ridge to the north of the road sticks out prominently. We parked and started walking towards it and agreed it must be the top part of the Rumdoodle Ridge mentioned in the guide book.

The ridge was very straightforward and easy class 2 scrambling on and between large boulders. We just picked the best line and stay neared the crest of the ridge and followed it to an obvious point about 2/3 down and then turned south down a scree slope to descend into the infamous Bottomless Pit on Pikes Peak's north side. It took us approximately 45 minutes to get down the ridge.

Taking a break

We stopped and snapped a few pics from here including a 90º panorama looking east (left side of pic) to south (right side of pic). We stopped at the Bottomless Pit and enjoyed the views and took in a few calories before the uphill hiking began. We crossed the level ground at the bottom and soon started ascending. The slope starts off very mild and gets steeper as you go. There was a little stream drainage coming down the hill above us from melted snow runoff. After hiking about 15 minutes the snow was consolidated and steep enough to require crampons so I put them on. My buddy had just purchased a pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes and was itching to try them. He ended up making it to the top but as the slope got steeper he was definitely regretting not having his real crampons.

90º panorama in Bottomless Pit

This is the car from the attempted suicide in 2008. Some kid whose girlfriend broke up with him drove his car off the summit of Pikes Peak down the steepest couloir on the mountain. He lived. His car fared much worse.

Car remains of attempted suicide

The snow was perfect. Just soft enough to take our spikes and ice axes. From our vantage point we could see no snow that was anywhere close to avalanche conditions and actually quite a bit had melted in the lower portion of the hike.

starting the snow climb with crampons

The climbing was beautiful and surreal. Having climbed Pikes Peak several times from both Barr Trail and the Crags, this was a new experience from me a real eye opener as to how rugged some of the terrain on my hometown 14er could be. There was definitely steeper couloirs and possible rock climbing all around us in the magical place.

Looking back down at halfway point

We made pretty good time going up the slope and only stopped occasionally to adjust gear and rest.

Approaching the split to the left

We kept wondering if it would be difficult to find the correct couloir but it ended up being easy. It seemed like there are quite a few ways to get to the same couloir meaning you can stay left or go right around some ribs of rock but you almost always can still make adjustments until you get right to near the top.

The slit in the Y Couloir. We took the left arm which tops out right at the summit house and hits 50º in grade.

Approaching left branch of Y Couloir

As we approached the left arm of the Y we noticed a small frozen waterfall ahead of us. This ended up being the most difficult section of the whole climb. It was not technical climbing requiring climbing gear per se but just required some extra attention and time to navigate.

Climbing the small frozen waterfall

Once above the waterfall the route steepened slightly and it really started feeling a bit airy. It was a great feeling being up so hike on a 14er so early in the day knowing we would be back in town within an hour or so after such a grand adventure.

Almost to the summit

I snapped a pic just below popping out at the top of the route and on to the road. Near the top I could hear tourists chatting at the summit house and the cars driving on the road. I was paying attention because Roach's guide says that tourists will often chuck rocks down this couloir just for fun without realizing anyone would think of climbing up from the bottom. No rocks were tossed our way on this day luckily.

Summit sign

At the top we of course posed for a summit pic and mingled with tourists in the summit house and grabbed some hot drinks. Overall it was a classic snow climb and we were back in Colorado Springs by early afternoon. This would definitely be a good introductory climb for someone who has little to know snow climbing experience with ice axes and crampons.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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