James Peak; Shooting Star Couloir

22-24 Jun 2002 - by Douglas Cook

Friday evening, June 22, Kevin Cahill and I bivied at Loch Lomond Lake. Despite a two mile long, rough 4WD road into the area around the five alpine lakes, there were four other groups of people car camping, and three other vehicles drove in and back out before dark.

After an hour long soaking rain, and a warm 40F night, we left Saturday morning at 5 AM for the couloirs on the East side of James Peak. The couloirs were significantly melted out, looking more like August conditions, and essentially the entire top half of Super Star was completely dry, except for a small remnant of the large snow cornice that forms at the top of the couloir. There was little evidence of recent rock and debris shedding down the couloirs. We traversed below Sky Pilot, which still appeared to be a continuous snowfield, and headed up Shooting Star. Snow conditions were perfect for crampons, forming 2-6 inch deep solid kicked steps. Although we carried rope, pickets, and ice screws, they were not needed with the great snow conditions. We did not find any icy conditions on the climb. About half-way up the 1300 foot couloir, the snow was completely melted out for 30-40 feet. Also, the last 20-30 feet at the top of the couloir was melted out to dry rock/scree. The couloir ends on the ridge, a few hundred feet below the summit.

After a short break on the summit, we decided to check out the route shown in Roach's Indian Peaks guidebook that connects the saddle in the ridge between James and Bancroft with the cirque around Ice Lake. This was a beautiful downclimb on grassy ledges and boulders, with eagle views of the Ice, Ohman, Caroline, Reynolds, Stewart, and Loch Lomond Lakes far below. Small blue and yellow daisy wildflowers were abundant in the high alpine grasses. We zig-zagged our way down through the ledges, often detouring when cliffed out, and arrived back at camp around 11 AM.

With the thin snowpack and early hot weather this year, the snow in the couloirs is disappearing fast. I'd estimate one, maybe two more weeks are left for snow climbs on a couple of the James Peak couloirs.


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