Sunday, September 4, 2011

Old TR: Skywalker Couloir Late May 2010

The Route
Given the forecasted temperatures the previous night Erik Mehus and I had been quite concerned with whether we would get a proper freeze and how early we would need to get off the snow, so we got a nice early start. However, arriving at the parking lot we found a nice solid freeze.

In fact the freeze was so awesome that we just stayed in our running shoes with our skis on our backs until we reached the base of the couloir. This was probably the fastest I have ever moved uphill on snow simply cause the snow was so perfect that we even found ourselves running at times.

Our first view of the couloir
Looking west to Mount Neva, awesome lines!!!!

When we reached the base of Skywalker we switched to our ski boots and headed east to meet the saddle along the ridge that connects Old Baldy to South Arapahoe. Wearing crampons this section of the ascent was super fun because it provided short mixed ice and scrambling practice, that was completely unnecessary, but whatever. Following some of these fingers of snow, ice and rock I gained the ridge to the summit higher than Erik and waited to for him to catch up to me from his position on the saddle. We then continued along the east ridge of South Arapahoe to the summit.

Erik Mehus having fun

Grays, Torreys, Edwards, Pettingell, Mines, Bard, etc
This section provides easy, but steep hiking with great views to the south including the Rollins Pass area, all the way to Grays and Torreys.  We reached to top around 10, and quickly realized that we were quite a bit ahead of schedule. So, we took our time enjoying and dreaming about the awesome lines that drop off North Arapahoe onto the Arapahoe Glacier. These lines look sick, it’s too bad this area is closed to the public.

Cloudy over Boulder
Arikaree, Longs, and Meeker to the north
Eventually we descended to the top of the couloir, which starts just southwest of the summit. We were still clearly earlier than optimum for any corn, so we waited longer while watching people slowly ascend the couloir below us. Oddly, I got quite anxious standing on top of the line waiting. I think more than anything I let my fear of heights get to me, because if you stand even 20 feet back from the edge of the line the first thing you can see is the basin floor below. I’d like to figure out a solution to prevent this anxiety from developing, so this doesn’t happen again. I think probably the biggest thing would be to go up to the entrance, assure myself its ok, then don’t keep thinking about it and looking off the edge.

We dropped in around 10:45 and the skiing was downright excellent. The top few turns come in around 55 degrees and I think the rest of the couloir stays around 45 degrees til the exit. Also, making this line especially fun is the fact that the walls of the couloir hold snow quite a ways up, allowing fun line selection and some double fall line skiing on the way down.

Erik Mehus
Mike Records
From the base of the couloir we followed the trail most of the way down before cutting down to the valley floor and following the old closed section of the 4th of July road back to the parking lot. Despite our low elevation, and the time of year, we were able to ski within about 150 yards of the car. Bonus!

Almost back...
This is one of the best front range lines I have skied for several reasons. First, the line is steep, deeply engraved in the rock, and quite long. Second, the approach is very quick and assuming you hit it early in the season the exit is also very easy. Third, because of its deep inset into the rock and slight westerly aspect it holds higher quality, smoother snow than many other couliors in the areas such as Shit for Brains. Also, it is close to home, everyone knows that I am NOT a morning person. In terms of bang for the buck I would rate it very highly, although still behind Dragonstail in terms of line length, ease of access, sustained pitch and scenery.