St Mary's Glacier and James Peak Couloirs

9 Mar 2001 - by Doug Cook

Hiked up the Glacier, across Kingston Flats, and along the ridge to the North of James Peak which provides a great overlook of the Couloirs on the North face. You can hike on snow all the way from the beginning at the trailhead; about 6 miles and 2000 feet round trip. Wish I'd worn plastic boots to begin the annual break-in of my feet. Snow on the Glacier was well consolidated and the hike could have been completed without crampons, but they're fun with (especially the lightweight Stubai aluminum crampons). The snowpack on the Glacier appears to be less than present the last three years. There seems to be less snow up on the steep sidewalls along the Glacier. The headwall didn't seem nearly as steep when I attempted to glissade down on the hike out. With the somewhat loose upper crust on the snow, it was actually difficult to get up enough speed to glissade. The Flats was windblown with generally up to six inches of hardpack snow. Some pockets of snow over the brush broke through to knee level. Snowshoes weren't required during the entire round trip.

The ridge across from James was intermittent hardpack and rock, slippery in a few spots. The couloirs are all in but appears to be less snow filled than in the photos in Gerry Roach's Indian Peaks guide which shows the couloirs in July some years ago. There was no evidence of anyone having been on the couloirs, but the cold wind was blowing hard enough to completely fill in my tracks in only a few hours. With the well consolidated snowpack, the couloir conditions should be suitable for climbing soon. New snow could change the conditions quickly.


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