Mt. Elbert, West Face Couloir

2 Jun 2003 - by Joshua Deuto

I decided to hit Mt. Elbert for my first 14er of the season. I know, it is already June and I'm only on number 1 this year (Its been that kind of year so far). Anyway, here goes...

I arrived at the South Halfmoon Creek Trailhead at approx. 6a yesterday, June 2. After a quick stretch and hydration session, I booted up and took off. My momentum was stimied by a very full creek with a dicey wet log crossing. Not out to be a hero, I opted for the well known 'butt-scoot log crossing' method, as not to pitch into the torrent. All went well. The hike up the 4wd road was uneventful, and due to it being early monday morning, blessedly bereft of other people. I had the entire valley to myself. A quick pace (with another hairy creek crossing-same beta!) deposited me at the base of the very large and imposing west face of Elbert. Thankfully, the snow climb I had come to do was in, save for a few hundred feet to the summit.

I headed into the couloir with my ice axe in hand. The snow conditions were safe and friendly for this 'moderate'snow climb. I decided to refrain from busting out the crampons, as the angle was mellow and the snow gave just enough for my boots to get purchase as I kicked my way up the chute. The couloir definately takes on a long, uphill feel, and I began to recognize my early season fitness limitations. 3000 ft in a little over a mile! With tenacity I make it to the cessation of the continuous snow and bail to the south, up and out of the couloir and onto the shoulder. This section actually contained the steepest snow on the route, capped with a little cornice. The snow varied in consistency from bomber, packed in crunch to what seemed like decompensating surface hoar. Not the avalanche producing variety, but more of a 'being robbed of water content' sort. The snow ended and I was faced with about 400 feet of rocky class 2 choss, consistent with the average easy-route Colorado 14er experience. No problem, the end was near.

I achieved the summit ridge and hurried to its terminus. I met a few guys that were enjoying a day off from a wilderness first responder course in Leadville who had summitted from the east side. They seemed psyched to be there. After niceties and a delicious piece of chocolate donated to me from one in the group, I bailed, eager to escape the low pressure windy conditions roaring around. The descent was uneventful, and I was able to get a nice 1000 ft of safe glissade in! Ass sliding like a pro! Down the rest of the couloir and out of the valley put me back at the truck in 5 hrs, 45 minutes from start time.

Great climb overall. I'd say that the remaining snow on the west face won't be around in a few weeks so get after it if this route is on the list for you this year. Godspeed.

Trip quality: high! empty of people, good conditions Weather: decent (very hazy). windy on the summit, warming on the descent Directions: Roach's book does a good job w/ the directions, although my odometer was about .5 mile(s) off by the time I arrived at the trailhead (unmarked, although obvious)


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