Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Greywolf West couloir speed run

Greywolf's west couloir  on a sunny day (Jess Douglas photo)
It has been warm here lately.  Like raining up to 8,000 feet for the first time this winter warm.  Wary of subjecting any of my friends to what was likely to be a stormy day of wallowing in isothermal snow, I headed up to Greywolf peak to ski the west couloir as fast as possible.  The west couloir is normally skied car to car from the outlet of St. Mary's reservoir, but I think the fastest point-to-point route is to approach via Riddell lakes and exit to St. Mary's reservoir.  The road is plowed this year, but it still had a lot of slush, so I left the bike in the car and skied the 2-mile shuttle with kicker skins.  I started the stopwatch in the rain at the boulders which block the road to the old Riddell lake trailhead.  Fortunately, a snowmobile track brought me to the old trailhead, and a skin track from last weekend helped keep the isothermal wallowing to a minimum.  Higher up, wet fresh snow caused some spectacular glomming, but otherwise it was a quick voyage to treeline.  Of note, most of the down logs on the Riddell lake trail were cleared last fall, and travel is once again fast and enjoyable.  I had somehow convinced myself that the weather would be OK above treeline, but my optimism vanished as I crested the approach ridge and promptly skied in a complete circle in the whiteout.  Unintentionally doubling back on one's ski tracks is a bit unnerving, but I was able to re-gain my bearings and traverse to a stormy upper Riddell lake.

I skinned up through shallow new slabs, and with ski crampons, was able to skin most of the South couloir.  From the top of the couloir, I made the 4th class traverse in a blinding whiteout, arriving at the East/West notch in well under 3 hours from the car.  The west couloir skied quite well, except that the 2 inches of fresh snow had formed touchy slabs up to 8" in depth.  As a result, I ended up ski cutting my way down most of the chute, trying to minimize the time spent under the hanging west face.  From the base, I made the normal climb out of the hole with zero visibility.  Fortuntatly, I was able to rely on knowledge of the terrain to navigate back to the St. Mary's ridge.  Once on the ridge, I spotted a ski track and followed it as best I could through down through storm.  Soon enough, the wind abated, and I enjoyed a bit of good skiing before isothermal snow bashing down to snow line (not too bad), and jogging the final quarter mile or so to the car.

The point-to-point time was 4 hours, 51 minutes.  This is probably the fastest time for the West couloir, but with better weather and conditions, it should go faster.  I found the route itself elegant and enjoyable, with some good technical scrambling on the South/west traverse to keep things engaging.

Gear: Scarpa Aliens, Dynafit Broad peaks with race bindings, ski crampons, a race pack with 0.75 L of water and a bunch of Perpetum and GU, a helmet, and one whippet and one race pole.  No crampons or ice axe today, but they might be mandatory later in the year.
Cell phone self portrait back at the car.

Splits:  Old trailhead 12 minutes; saddle 35 minutes; begin traverse to Riddell 1h 20; leave Riddell 1h 40; top of South couloir 2h 25 (this section was slow); top of west 2h 45 minutes; start up out of hole 3 hr; ridge 4 hr; car 4.51.  

Sorry about the lack of pictures - my camera died about an hour into the trip.  

No comments:

Post a Comment