Posts Tagged ‘Friends Hut’

Splitboarding Star Peak, ‘June Couloir’

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
5/2/2009

Conditions were less than desirable Saturday Morning. Nevertheless, I had traveled all the way out to Friends Hut with the intention of making an attempt at the June Couloir, so the four of us headed up into a blizzard just to see how far we could get.

We could barely see a hundred yards in front of us, but fortunately there is a prominent North-South ridge that practically leads from the hut to the summit of Star Peak. With the ridge on our right side, we continued to head in a due north direction.

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Visibility was bad

After an hour of skinning, conditions weren’t any better. Two of our party members decided to head back down to the hut. Ross and I continued onward. Eventually I started to visualize dark rocky outcropping dividing the snow chutes on the ridge. More fortunately, actually a Godsend, was that I had torn out a great photo of Star Peak from Lou Dawson’s Book. Together, we would constantly study the photo and imagine what the peak would look like if we could actually see it. For those who haven’t seen it, Star Peak is a triangular mountain face with a long ridge swooping down to the (looker’s) right. From this ridge, multiple chutes drop down like ‘fingers’ to the apron below. As you look from right to left, the chutes get longer as the ridge gets higher. In the exact middle, the longest chute goes directly to the summit. This is the June Couloir, our destination.

When the slope started to increase dramatically, we figured we were on the apron of the south face of Star Peak. However, we did not know how much farther to the west we would have to travel to find the couloir. The only way to know was to climb up the apron until we found the first chute. Then we had to study the photo and count off each chute as we traversed across the apron. Finally, we were certain we had found the June Couloir!

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Entering the June Couloir

Typically, upon arriving at the base of a couloir, I am apprehensive about the challenge ahead. This time, however, I felt as if the challenge of navigating our way to the base of the couloir was the greater challenge. With that task behind us, we raged right into the chute headfirst. I was confident that we would succeed in making the summit in short time.

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About halfway up

Although the snow continued to fall, the visibility was better in the protected couloir. Snow conditions were good for climbing. We did not need crampons as we were able to kick into the few inches of fresh snow that had fallen recently. However, there was a layer of bulletproof melt/freeze below the new snow, and with no sun to warm the surface, the snowboard descent would be hazardous.

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The final pitch

It was a long climb, but I have to thank my partner Ross for leading every pitch. About 3/4 of the way up, we came out to a larger snowfield with a few options. Again I consulted Dawson’s photo. The direct line up appeared to be very rocky, and the line to the left held more snow. Regardless, we kept up the center line, and found our way to the summit.

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The team on the summit!

On the summit, we couldn’t see much of the surrounding mountains. After studying our options, we decided to descend from the line that branched out to the left when we were climbing (hiking down the ridge to our right).

The drop in was very steep and icy. I was pretty rattled after my slide last week on James Peak, so I side-slipped my way down. The snow started to get better after the first hundred feet, although we still made very careful jump turns on the ‘dust on crust’ conditions. After some very careful snowboarding, we found ourselves back on the apron, rejoicing at our accomplishments!

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Ross making the descent

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As we descended down to the hut, the mountain once again disappeared into the white fog, like a mirage. Fortunately, while on the skin out the following day, I was able to finally see the mountain in all its glory.

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Star Peak. Now you can see the distinctive ‘fingers’ leading from right to left, and the ‘June Couloir’ that goes to the summit.

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A close-up of the June Couloir and our climb (red) and descent (green)

Splitboarding from Ashcroft to Friends Hut via Pearl Pass

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
5/1/2009

This past weekend was my second annual spring hut trip. Last year, we had a fun group of couples for three nights in the Green-Wilson Hut, in which I was able to tag a line up and down the Conundrum Couloir as well as an unnamed couloir on the east face of Castle Peak. This year, instead of a couples trip, I recruited a solid group of three other splitboarders for a backcountry ‘bro-fest’.

We camped out in the parking lot of the Ashcroft Ghost Town on Thursday night, just as the town’s inhabitants had over 100 years ago, gaping in awe of the same enormous mountains surrounding us.

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The view from Ashcroft

We awoke at dawn on Friday, still missing one splitboarder. Nevertheless, we left a note and started out on our way. One skier was with us as well, but he would not last through the days journey. We skinned up the entire route on Castle Creek Road, and later Pearl Pass Road. It is because of these ancient mining and transportation routes that makes this area so popular and advantageous for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. The first portion of the trip was a very moderate 3 miles, which gave us plenty of time to gape out at the huge avalanche paths that we crossed along the way. While we were safe from those slides since we had a stable spring snowpack, we couldn’t possibly imagine the fear of crossing these things in the dead of winter!

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Starting up the road, crossing the avy chutes on Greg Mace Peak on the left.

After a few hours, we arrived at the popular Tagert and Green Wilson Huts. Although this wasn’t our destination (as nice as it would have been), we stopped out on the porch for a break. Not ten minutes after we stopped did another splitboarder approach us. It turned out to be our missing teammate, Ross. Happy that the group was united, we pressed onward above treeline for the much more difficult portion of the trip.

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The soldiers march on above tree-line
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The east face of Castle Peak, looking like bad conditions.

Unfortunately, the skier in our group just couldn’t cut the mustard. As much as we tried to convince him that it would be worth the trip to the hut, he eventually decided to ski down. I took a few action shots before continuing on up.

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Making our way across ‘Mace Saddle’

From here, routefinding was very important. We did not want to accidentally descend into Cooper Creek (only to end up back at Ashcoft after a nasty bushwack), and we didn’t want to cross over the Elk Range at a location other than Pearl Pass, which could have deadly consequences. Finally, after rounding the southest buttress of Pearl Mountain, we could see a sign far off on the ridge, which looked like a person standing on top of Pearl Pass.

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Pearl Pass sighted, but it still looks so far away!

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Getting closer…

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The final pitch was the steepest of all. With the low avalanche danger, we stuck to the road and skirted around the headwall.

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Mike nearing the top of the pass, while I scoped out some cool rock crags. I wonder if anyone climbs them in the summer?

I was the first one to reach the top of the pass, and let out the loudest yell my tired lungs could muster. After eight hours of travel, we finally reached the height of our climb, at 12,705 feet! The sign said we were 18 miles from Aspen and 19 miles from Crested Butte. The four of us took in the fresh air and solitude of being so far away from civilization.

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Pearl Pass conquered by splitboarders!

By now, it was nearing five o’clock, and we still had to find the hut. Thankfully, Lou Dawson was nice enough to supply the GPS coordinates in his guidebook, which I had already pre-programmed into my Garmin. From the top of the pass, we would have to take a leftward trend into the bowl, and the hut should be right at tree line. I watched my three teammates descend into the bowl before I brought up the rear.

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Talking over the descent. After eight hours of climbing, we were finally able to snowboard!

Mike dropped in first…
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Ross ollies the drop
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Followed by Ed
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Finally, I spotted the hut, right where it was supposed to be!
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We made a few more turns before taking the boards off for good.

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Up next: The June Couloir of Star Peak in a blizzard!