With nomad in WY I found a different partner for this trip. Sorry no snowboarders in this TR
South side of Mt. Cowen from an earlier trip.
After two failed attempts of a ski descent down the north side of Mt. Cowen, Gabe and I set out to finish it. Instead of a two day trip, which failed twice, we decided to make one long single day push. We left our car at about 1am and cut through the ranch at the East Fork trailhead. Warm weather melted out the snow for the first three miles, leaving us with skis on our backs in ski boots. We plugged straight on through the night and arrived at Elbow Lake at 6 am at first light. The sun had yet to rise so the temperature was still somewhere in the 20's, too cold to sit with out warm clothes for long. Wet slabs, pinwheels and point releases were visible on all southern aspects, so we decided we needed to ascend the south face a soon as possible. At points we had to remove skis and boot up frozen avalanche debris to gain access to Mt. Cowen. The sun came out around the ridge as we plugged up the last 1,000ft to the west ridge of Mt. Cowen. The heat from the sun intensified the exhaustion from the long hike and drained us immediately. Progress slowed significantly as we booted up the final couloir to the ridge.
Gabe skinning past Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Moe
Myself booting up the deep snow to the ridge.
Looking down the couloir from the cornice on a previous trip
Large amounts of new snow surprised me as we reached the top of The Sinus Canal also known as The Razor. The anchor which I had scouted on the last trip had been buried under 4 feet of snow. After some snow extraction I was on belay cutting chunks of cornice off our intended run. After cutting off the new snow I decided to rappel into the couloir to check the conditions. With skis and polls on my back I worked my way down and over the 20 foot cornice. A quick snow pit indicated large amounts wind loaded snow on a solid base. One fracture line at 2 feet made me slightly nervous, but the steep slope of 60 degrees and the narrow couloir at 15 feet reassured me. To confirm the fact that the slope would not slide, I decided to make one hard turn. With knots in the end of the rope and still on rappel I made one large jump turn coming down with as much force as possible. The snow quickly sluffed but did not fracture. The snow was also shallower, confirming that the top of the couloir was wind loaded. I decided to ski. I removed the rope from my harness and proceeded to make slow jump turns down the couloir.
Gabe working his way down the top section.
Gabe below the second rappel
Making turns in the narrows
As I got down into the couloir I could clearly see that it would not got through uninterrupted. At small cliff made the need for a second rappel half way down the couloir. As I got closer all I could think about was Doug Coombs falling in La Grave two weeks ago. I side stepped down the last thirty feet in a 63 degree choke to the top of the cliff. I found a rock for a potential anchor and carefully dug the snow out around it. After what seemed like forever I got webbing around a rock horn and to myself. With the safety of an anchor I was able to remove skis and get to the side of the couloir. Out of the way of sluff, I cleared Gabe for descent. He rappelled over the cornice and packed up the 30 meter rope. He made precise jump turns down the most exposed run of his life. As he approached me at the anchor I handed him webbing which quickly linked him to the anchor. He turned the rope over to me while he removed his skis and polls. I let Gabe lead the second half of the couloir and the second rappel. He easily proceeded down over the obstacle where he reapplied his skis. More narrow jump turns followed until the couloir began to open up 200 feet below. It still never opened up much more than twenty feet wide and never dropped below 50 degrees. With Gabe in a safe location below the couloir, I proceeded over the cliff. Below the cliff the hazard, although still high, had decreased to the point where I could make more comfortable turns. Some wonderful knee deep powder turns awaited us after exiting the couloir. High fives and smiles were exchanged after making it to a safe location below the couloir.
Myself working my way out the bottom
A short lunch was enjoyed while basking in the warm sun perched on top of a rock. As the reality of our location began to set in we discussed an exit plan. The north side of Mt. Cowen is isolated to the point where there are only a few options to get out. The first route, which would circumnavigate the peak to the east did not appear possible with the northeast arÃƒÂªte in the way. The couloir which goes up the arÃƒÂªte appeared to have a very difficult headwall, which we were not prepared to climb. The second option, The Cow, seemed most reasonable. As I lead the skin track up to The Cow I felt a whomp on a 35 degree slope. I quickly bagged the idea of exiting through The Cow due to avalanche conditions. Circumnavigating the mountain to the west is not a possibility so we were left with only one option, descend another drainage. The Strawberry Creek drainage winds its way down to the Paradise Valley.
Some creamy April powder
A look back at our tracks coming out of what appears to be a solid rock face
With a gps to navigate we removed our skins and began to ski down to Strawberry Creek. After about 3 miles we found ourselves bush whacking through dead trees and brush. The thin snow pack required us to add and remove skis every twenty feet, slowing progress significantly. After many hours of being entangled in trees and branches we some how found ourselves on a deer trail. This trail lead to an old overgrown logging road, which slowly thinned out to a comfortable width. We followed the dirt road as it wound its way south down the Paradise Valley. The road seemed to lose no elevation as we wondered our way down this unfamiliar road. After several miles of travel in the wrong direction, Gabe and I decided to start heading towards the closest lights we could see. We descended down through farms, squeezing through barb wire fences and crossing cattle guards. The lights which appeared to be close ended up being over five miles away. We were not even able to reach the lights because of cattle and horses. We eventually found our way down to the highway which runs on the east side of the Yellowstone River. It took an hour to flag down a car in the Paradise Valley at 11 pm. The first car which passed by was kind enough to give me a 25 minute ride out of his way to the trail head to pick up our car. I picked up Gabe on the highway at 1am and we proceeded back to Bozeman in our delirious states.
Well, on one hand I really wish I could have been there to ride the couloir. On the other hand, I'm glad that I didn't have to endure the epic long day and bushwack out. Either way, that's fucking sick and may be the line of the year. Mad props.
Oh, and cheers to Gabe for going along with Kyle's wacky idea. Welcome!