May 09, 2010

Colorado Update III

Ava and I skied the Northwest Couloir on Kelso Mountain on Friday while Dane stayed home to try and kick a cold (basically he called in sick for our training program).  We skied up the road to the summer trailhead for Grays and Torreys Peaks, then followed the trail to Grays Peak for a while before turning and skinning up the ridge of Kelso Mountain.  This was Ava's first day in CO, and she managed to ski up and down a peak that is over 13,000 feet tall.

Ava feeling the altitude near the top of Mt. Kelso "I did it! Let's take a rest."

On the way up we got a great view of Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak.  This is on my list, and I hope I get a chance to ski it before Dane and I head to Denali.

Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak (it's the obvious line coming down from just right of the summit)

The ski down was long (2,200 vertical feet) with a sustained pitch.  It was close to 40 degrees for one stretch near the top, then mellowed out for the remainder of the run.  There was a bit of wind slab near the top, but that quickly went away, yielding a bit of powder over spring corn for the majority of the ride down.  Overall, this was the nicest day we've had so far in both terms of weather and snowpack!

Northeast Couloir on Mt. Kelso

The next day Dane, Ava and I met up with Keith, Edyn, Graham, and Mark to attempt skiing Dragon Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This is a fairly famous line amongst backcountry skiers in Colorado due to its steepness and level of commitment.  The three of us arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot about 10 minutes early, and the other four were about 30 minutes late, so we had plenty of time to play hacky sack with ski boots on.

Ski Boot Hacky Sack

We eventually got our cumbersome group going and skinned our way up Flattop Mountain to the top of the couloir.  There were two people already there, deciding weather the conditions warranted a safe descent.  Keith hiked down into the couloir a ways and dug a pit, ultimately concluding that the top three inches might sluff off, but the snowpack below that was plenty solid.  After much deliberation amongst all potential participants, our entire group decided to drop in to the skier's left side of Dragon Tail (there's a right side that's apparently less steep but narrower).

Keith getting ready to drop in to Dragon Tail

Keith loves being the guinea pig, so we all let him drop in first.  The start of the line involved traversing the steepest part of the slope to the center of the couloir, directly below a looming cornice.  The steepness of this first part, combined with the fact that it happens to be above a 40 foot cliff makes it the most committing part of the descent.

Keith committing to the first turn after the initial entry traverse

After the initial traverse, it mellows out to a nice 45-50 degree slope for several hundred vertical feet, the meat of the line.  The end of this stretch culminates with a choke, which is about 100 feet long and 1.5 ski lengths wide.  After the choke, you transition into the final half of the couloir which is a little flatter and much wider.

Ava and Keith below me in the bottom half of the couloir

Dragon Tail Couloir, with Keith skiing out the apron at the bottom

As if our group of seven wasn't enough, there was another group of five and a group of two (perhaps even more) all skiing Dragon Tail on this fine Saturday.  Some of them climbed part way up the couloir from the bottom, and some of them dropped into the right hand side from the top, while our group was the only one to drop into the left side from the top.  This is surely one of the neatest lines I've ever skied.

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