It was a dream that emerged from an idea. First, a curiosity came from a failed attempt at a ridge climb in October, due to snow. Second, came creativity and hope from satellite imagery. When we skied McHenry’s Notch Couloir in February, I thought it would never happen. But, I took the beta pictures anyway. After a huge upslope then a few more wet storms, I pulled off at Moraine Park after a day of skiing in the Sky Pond area like a tourist, with binoculars. I couldn’t believe my eyes, IT was actually IN! The last thing that made this idea become a reality was incredible weather when it looked like it was going to be Scottish, a solid partner, and intent.
Others were headed to the Gore, to the Citadel, to the Indian Peaks, but I knew what had to be done. A last minute invite riled Jonny, and he was in.
It was a cold morning for May, and for the first time in a few days the snowpack was locked up again. When we got to up into the Solitude Basin, I dashed along the right side of the valley, eager for a view of the couloir. Uhhh, hmmm, oooh, ahhhh! And she goes! (besides a chockstone) The face looked beautiful, and the upper section not bad, but we wouldn’t know for sure until we were there.
The couloir was beautiful. It went from 15 to 1m wide slowly, and steepened to mid 50’s before the chockstone. We sent this section, going at around M2. Up and up, through another tight section at the top of the couloirs we went, and onto the face. The snow was incredible: scalloped recycled pow and soft styrofoam underneath.
At the bottom of the upper crux, Jonny said “Yea, don’t think we need to rope up, we can just climb up, and around over here.” And he was off… Ten minutes later his CAMP aluminum crampon was bent and came off, I tossed him the rope. I placed a few nuts in good rock, and set up a belay, which would also be our rappel station on the descent. This section was a bit harder, I’d give it M2+. 4th class rock covered with ice and snow, and traversing on snow covered slab against a cliff =fun to lead with gear, not solo.
The summit was awesome, great views and large cornices. It was like a three part descent, the upper couloir from the summit, the NW face, and the couloir. For the rappel over the chockstone, I girthed a flake. All went smooth, and the skiing was great. Before we knew it, we were home free. A few battles with swampy snow while skiing down in the creeks, and we were back in the lot. A group of couples came back from their 15 minute walk while we were decompressing. “Where are you guys going?” they said. “Were coming back”, “We’re going to drink beer!” we say.
Ahh, McHenry’s NW Passage Route… Grade III, M2+, snow to 55 degrees. D17 on Dawson’s scale.
sweet TR man. You have a good eye for picking out an interesting line. Have you been riding the hard boots for awhile? I couldnt remember. I have a line I want to hit once the road opens. 22 miles 8,000′ on the round trip (an overnighter), with a nice couloir and 3 peaks. Drop me a line if you’re interested
BG: I’d say its a “likely” first ascent/descent…. Yea I agree with the dirty ass snow. Thats pretty much why I’m exploring the Front Range this spring, most of the other ranges are screwed.
HikeForTurns: actually just started riding with the Scarpas a lot this season, though I’ve had em for a few years. The main reason is because BD’s new Neve strap crampon has a 2cm lower heel bail, so they don’t fit onto soft boots. err, they do, but fall off constantly… BS if you ask me! So now i use ski boots for tech rock/ice routes and CAMP’s alumium with good ol softys for everything else. Only in CO till the 17th, getting after it though. Let me know if you’re up for some Gore (sick routes in mind), or whatever before then…
yo steepnar; send that link to pics, I need to see if this is that line I was thinking of before? AK range is full-on meltdown, but got 5 or so TRs comin soon; mtn. looks good, its been real sunny, think people have been climbing hard already…talk to me when you get here