Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Frozen Elk Couloir - 5.22.2013

Last week Jeff Welch and I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park to ski Frozen Elk Couloir, which has been on my wish list since we skied Dragonstail Couloir several years ago. I should start by noting that there is some debate as to whether the name is Frozen or Dead Elk, and I'm in the minority with Frozen Elk. But, since the name stems from an elk that was found frozen (and dead) in the top of the couloir, I'm going to stick with Frozen Elk.

An already warm night got off to a bit of a late start after a missed alarm and an unfortunate construction delay in the park. As we started the sprint from Bear Lake towards Tyndall Gorge, I was not optimistic that we would even make it to the base of the line before the warm May sun got the best of the snow. But, we made good progress and were soon at the mouth of the couloir; about which time I noticed that two of my cameras had dead batteries - apologies for the GoPro pictures.

Looking south towards Hallet's spectacular buttress:


Working our way up Frozen Elk:


Fortunately, shortly after entering the couloir, high clouds blew in, protecting the snow from direct sunlight for the rest of the day.

The highlight of Frozen Elk is the cool rock block in the middle of the line; approaching said rock:


Jeff and I getting stoked for a bit of mixed climbing:


The rock moves were awesome, Jeff bringing up the rear:


Done with the mixed climbing and into the no-fall-zone, we carefully sprinted the remaining 1/3rd of the way to the top of the line. At the top, with light snow falling and heavy clouds building, we quickly removed our crampons and headed down - barely having a chance to drool over the park's gazillion rad lines. The top of the line was actually rather rowdy, exposed turns through heavy and fast sloughs kept me on my toes. With a group immediately behind us, we hurried to get through the downclimb before their slough involuntarily flushed us off it. Below the crux we were able to relax and open it up a bit more. Jeff:


Jeff with the downclimb visable above:



Photo: Jeff Welch

Working our way toward the apron:

Photo: Jeff Welch

Jeff in the apron above Emerald Lake.


Frozen Elk on the left, Dragonstail on the right. Especially considering the minimal effort required, its hard to beat 'em.

Photo: Jeff Welch

Frozen Elk is one of my all time favorite lines: the access is unbeatable, its framed by huge rock walls, has sustained steep pitch, and the neat rock move in the middle makes it challenging. I'd do this line again in a second. Of note, until recently this line didn't seem to get much traffic, but on Wednesday three groups went down it. With large sloughs that can easily reach the downclimb, an early start is a good idea to avoid other groups.