Colchuck Peak, Elevation 8,705ft
North Buttress Couloir, 45+ degrees
May 11, 2003
Ben, Jason, Josh
Colchuck Peak from just below Colchuck Lake. Our climb and ski descent are in green.
The NBC was my plan. I thought it would make a classic ski descent. Well, classic aside, some down to earth effort had to take place before skiing of any sort happened. At 3am that required climbing out of the back of my car, putting my pack on, and beginning.
We changed into our boots at the bridge crossing and gathered our gear at the lake before gliding across. At the other side several tents dotted the landscape. We noticed people on Triple Couloir but other than that no one seemed to be up and around yet. Several groups were making their way up the trail the day before and we expected company on the NBC. At the bottom of the couloir, we saw no one.
Ben took the lead, Josh followed and I took up the rear. Once on route the couloir turned out to be a bit steeper than it looked from below, but still very appealing. Since the snow had a thin crust over wet snow, there was plenty of purchase to cruise up the couloir. Near the top, I looked down and couldn’t help but think this is going to be a rad ski.
Josh nearing the top of the couloir.
The view from the top was quite enticing and the Northeast Face looked to offer a decent traverse before opening up. Foregoing a break (a benefit of being last), I followed and knew it must be getting a bit more difficult when Ben said he was pulling his axe out. There was one move over smooth rock with a step or two where any misplaced crampon would have enlightening consequences. I made the move after a few test steps and wondered how Ben must have felt in his UTBs. Once past that obstacle the remainder of the route became visible.
Oh yea! Looking good so far.
I looked back across the traverse to determine where I would ski before putting my head down and continuing (okay, I took a gander at the valley bottom once or twice and calculated how big I thought the cliffs were… for future reference).
The next part of the climb went quickly and near the top the face narrowed down with cliffs on either side. By that point, I knew I was close. Josh and Ben’s skis were resting in a small notch and from there I could see where our previous day's journey had ended. I traversed over until I was beneath the last rock pitch at the summit where I called up to the others. "Hey! How is it?"
Josh nearing the top of the North Face. A complete ski descent of theNortheast Couloir would begin to his left but that will have to wait until next year.
Ben’s response, "It’s easy! There are good handholds." And there were. The whole climb from the base of the couloir had taken somewhere around 3 hours.
At the top, everything came into view. Stuart was breathtaking, Dragontail foreboding, and everything else – inspiring! A few groups were making their way up what would typically be the descent route. As they pulled in one climber yelled, "So… are you the guys climbing the NBC with skis?"
"Yea!" Before long and after chatting with the climbers, clouds were beginning to threaten our good day so we hightailed off the summit.
Josh climbing the final few feet to the summit.
Jason and Josh on the summit with the North Face of Stuart in the background.
Argonaut, Sherpa and the North Face of Stuart. Schwing!
As we climbed off the summit, the climbers bid us "Good LUCK!"
Back at our skis, Ben went first, Josh next, and I followed (there isn’t much room to put skis on). Beside the first cliffs, Ben decided to set up for a photo while Josh pounded out a few turns. Below, the slope steepens and ices up considerably. I don’t know how to explain what happened next because I couldn’t believe what happened next was indeed happening. Josh turned, caught rock at the edge of the couloir and… well… fell! It happened so fast neither Ben nor I even moved. Neither of us had ever seen someone actually fall because you just don’t do that. For a moment we thought it was all over. As he was about to slide over some polished rock and tumble out into the main face, he caught edge. Dibs to the bro, NICE WORK!
A look at the fall line. Josh caught his tips on a rock above me which led to the unthinkable -- a steep skiing summersault to where he is now. Colchuck Lake can be seen in the distance.
We continued down until we reached ice. This section involved time and effort under worsening weather. Yikes! Fortunately improvement was on the menu (and not us). Before we knew it, the main course was served up. The next several turns were in soft powder until we began the traverse back to the top of the couloir. Once there, classic turns awaited us. We fought to be first! After a turn or two we had to resort to taking turns making turns (pun intended) as to avoid one another’s sluff.
Josh skiing the upper couloir.
All of the sudden Ben yelled "Squirrel!" Huh? "A squirrel in the middle of the couloir getting taken out by our sluff!" No way! I watched it fall head over tail for a couple hundred feet with what looked like a one-way journey to snafflehound heaven. Then somehow it escaped and ran to the rock cliffs at the edge of the couloir and disappeared. Jeez, in my next life, I wanna be Mr. Squirrel, extreme skier extraordinaire.
We finished the rest of the couloir and were off in no time. At the bottom, we cruised to the top of the hill above the lake and looked back up at Colchuck to milk the last bit of thrill. Sweet! I met some people who took my photo since "…you look cool..."
The NBC is an awesome route and definitely one I will gladly go back and ski again. Far and away, a classic line! This route has it all, a couloir and a face, rock climbing and traversing, exposure and views throughout. We deemed it a first but have yet to confirm with Mr. Squirrel.