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Friday, April 6, 2018

Glissading the Refrigerator

It was about 20 degrees at 3:30am when I slipped off a log and fell into the creek.  It was June 11th 2016 and the creek was swollen with melting snow.  Under normal conditions, one could probably just take a running leap over this creek, but it was spring and the creek was over it's banks,  Add in the fact that it was still dark, and the creek's edge was icy, as was the log I tried to cross on. 

Anyways, I splashed down and got a good soaking.  This would make the rest of my eleven hour day really special. 

After cursing myself briefly, I realized I was only wet from the knees down.   Wet boots and feet are sort of a normal thing to deal with in spring mountaineering.  I decided to just press on.  After all Mark, Kate and I had only been on the trail for less than an hour and a half and there's only so many windows of opportunity for Ice Mountain's Refrigerator couloir and conditions were prime.  We still had a ways to go to reach the bottom of the nw facing couloir.  A couloir that would later yield the best glissade ever.  Let me repeat that. 

Best.  Glissade.  Ever.

Mark and Kate were still on the south side of the creek.  We had somewhat disagreed on the approach to the base of the couloir, and rather than talking about it, we both just went our own way.  We'd hiked together often enough that to separate briefly like this was no big deal.  We knew we'd rendezvous shortly above tree line and we all knew that time was of the essence.  We needed to be at the base of this couloir early to avoid it's notorious rockfall which warm snow makes even riskier.

We mostly stayed within eyesight of each other, but soon I was too focused on the deteriorating route I had chosen.  I was taking the steeper more direct approach.  Daylight would later prove to me that this was a questionable choice.  For the next hour and a half I played a fun game of "on with the snowshoes, off with the snowshoes".  I was separated from Kate and Mark and walking up a very steep snow covered talus field.  I could hear water running underneath me and occasionally I would punch through the snow and find myself waist deep in powder with my feet in a seasonal creek. 

Kate and Mark looking towards Ice mountain.

Eventually I emerged from the talus fields and thick trees.  Kate and Mark were in sight again, and oddly enough, even though they had taken the "long way" around we were now right next to each other as we broke above the tree line.  They also had never had to cross the creek, thanks to a snow bridge.

Now the base of our couloir was in sight, as the darkness was fading quickly.  First we needed to traverse a long and steep slope to the base of this couloir.  This is where the adrenaline started to rise a bit.  After a quick break for a snack and to switch from snowshoes to crampons, we were off. 

Mark took this photo of me traversing under steep rock cliffs towards the base of the couloir.

Kate was leading the way, and ultimately breaking trail for Mark and I.  As we approached the base of the couloir a rock about the size of a basketball broke off the mountain, and we heard it break the silence of our windless day as it bounced off the cliffs above us and then zipped through the air with intense speed.  It buzzed right past Kate's head with a "wwhhhizzzz" sound.  We all just looked at each other with that look that communicates "Damn that was a close call". 

Within minutes of the rockfall incident, we were at the base of the Refrigerator couloir.  The snow was about as good as it gets in early June in Colorado. 

Kate stashing her snowshoes at the base of the couloir.

Now, there was just climbing about 1000 feet.  The further up we went, the steeper it got.  The only couloir in Colorado I've climbed that is more steep than this is the Io Couloir on Jupiter Mountain.

Me lagging behind as usual.  

Mark and Kate approaching the cornice at the top.

A view back towards Apostle Basin

The climb up the couloir went quickly, mostly thanks to the steps that Kate put in as she led the way nearly the entire way up.  Once at the top of the couloir, there's a 20 minute scramble across some dangerous terrain with loose rock to the summit. 

Summit of Ice Mountain with two good friends.  Life doesn't get much better than this.
We didn't waste any time on the summit.  After about ten minutes we were on our way down.  The snow was already warming up and we still had to descend the Refrigerator couloir without triggering wet slides or rockfall.

Kate making her way from the summit back to the couloir.

Kate descending the couloir.
We all got a good glissade of the bottom 2/3 of the Refrigerator couloir.  The top is just too steep to glissade safely in my opinion.  The rest of the day was your normal sun filled and slush filled slog back to the trailhead.

Ahhh.. the joys of mountaineering.

Looking back at Ice Mountain and N. Apostle Peak from somewhere near the Colorado Trail / Lake Ann.

1 comment:

  1. Those pictures of you and Kate in the couloir trigger my vertigo. I would be frozen with fear doing that. It's akin to my climbing my 5/12 pitch wet metal roof to knock down a hornets nest. In your case the view is much better. When I climb my roof, I just get to see the top of my garage.