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  1. #1
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    Jan 2006
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    TR - 5/13/07 Savage Peak, Savage Couloir. (almost)

    2007/05/13 - Savage Peak 13,139' (attempt)
    Savage Couloir via Missouri Creek
    5 Miles, 3,000' ish
    IridePow, HikeforTurns


    Savage Peak. Sounds appealing eh? The Savage Couloir has been on my list for awhile now, and a recent reminder brought it up to the top. Unaware that the road was maintained and therefore driveable, I decided to give it a try. Yes the internet is a good place for sharing info in the form of trip reports, some may say leading to the encouragement of others to try. And this may be seen as an example of that. However, I dont think posting a trip report should make you feel responsible for those who may read it. Trip reports are just that, one persons account of a hike,climb or ski. And it is important to put that into perspective. That being said, here's mine:

    As Saturday afternoon rolled around, I was debating on going for a hike the following day, what to do? If I'm lucky, this scenario gets played out on a weekly basis. After surveying the internet for info on everything from avy and weather forecasts, to recent photos of Colorado peaks ( and of course, the latest item on SAC), I thought it may be a decent day to try for Savage Peak, via the Savage Couloir:



    Overnight temperatures of the snowpack have left a little to be desired. Local NWS point forecast suggested 29 degrees and clear skies at 12,200' SW of Minturn for Saturday night. Whether or not that would be adequate for a good freeze was iffy. It sounded good enough to at least have a look though. I emailed IridePow and we discussed this, and eventually decided to meet up at the park and ride at 4:00am. The drive to the TH took roughly 2.5 hours, and was manageable in IridePow's Audi wagon. After debating on our starting point, we decided on a small field a little ways before the end of the road. We figured the ascent would be easiest if we contoured north and met up with the Missouri Creek trail. At 7:00am we left the road and began the climb, both of us on our splitboards.

    At roughly 10,200' the snow was nice and firm, and the vehicle's thermometer read 30 degrees. We headed up and to the north en route to the trail, crossing Sopris Creek on a fallen tree. Shortly after, we were greeted by a tricky crossing of Missouri Creek. I found a thin enough section for a pole planted jump, and Iride crossed on an icy log. We followed the creek on its north side, and shortly came to a bridge. The trail crossed back onto the south side, and we followed it with help from some tree blazes. Snow in the trees started to soften a little bit, but remained firm enough to support our weight up to treeline.

    After about 1.5 hours, we exited the trees and got our first view of the Savage. We also had decent views of the surrounding peaks, and some recent wet slide activity. It appeared that this activity was happening on the dirty layer, not far below the top of the snowpack. The couloir itself looked pretty dirty as well, with about a 2 foot wide runnel going down the right hand side. It wasnt smooth corn, but it looked manageable. Around 9:15am we reached the base of the climb.



    We stored the boards and put on crampons for the ascent. Snow was softening some, and each step went in about to the ankle. During the ascent you couldnt help but notice this beauty on gawkers right, looking NE from the Savage. It was too steep for my tastes though. Clouds had begun to build as we made our way up the couloir. This helped to keep the snow a little cooler, and it remained good to climb almost to the top. Unfortunately, these clouds started to drop hints that the weather was changing. First some really light snow off and on, followed by the soft rumbling of distant thunder. I guess its that time of year again. We'd stop to listen every once and a while, but it never sounded too close. The forecast had called for possible T storms, but the percentge was around 20-30%. Towards the top of the couloir we decided to keep going and things started to go downhill.



    The couloir had a small y in it, we took the slightly steeper right branch as the aspect of the slope turned to more east facing. With this new aspect and the lack of protection from the couloir walls, the snow started to get ugly. The last 15 feet we were sinking in a bit more. At this point the thought of bailing entered my mind (it tried to get a word in during the sounds of thunder). Eager to get off the loose snow we stayed on the extreme right of the couloir and climbed a few rocks before topping out. In hindsight I wouldnt have attempted this again, if the snow had failed the results wouldnt have been pretty. Its amazing how fast conditions can change within a matter of feet. Then as if that moment wasn't enough excitement for the day, I started to hear a strange squeaking sound, like the air slowly escaping from a water bottle. I started to check over IridePow's backpack and couldnt locate the source. Then I grabbed the top of his snowboard and the sound stopped. Probably less then 100 feet from the top, and its time to get down now. We took a low stance and made our way down along the ridge. Should we have ditched our packs with equipped lightning rods and waited it out? I dont know, my thoughts were only of getting lower asap. After we dropped down a good ways, we felt a little more comfortable and briefly considered entering the couloir from the other branch, which was more north facing and not as steep. However the top 30 feet still appeared to be pretty loose, and entering the couloir by riding a sluff was not something I wanted to try. Add this to the fact that we just witnessed a cornice collapse on Savage's south ridge. We strapped in and made our way down the east ridge.

    To the left of the ridge crest was a severe drop off, and to the right was a SE facing slope of unsupportable rot. Fortunately the ridge was of a low enough angle to grant access to the lower east bowl. We made quick work of this and rode down on the firm dust layer to treeline. We made our way E SE towards Sopris Creek, contouring around some cliff bands, then posholing some steep trees until we reached the valley. We skinned up again and skied along the creek and back to the road. After a quick stroll on the road we reached the car at around 2:30p.

    Yesterday a couple of lessons were learned. The tops of couloirs are not a place you want to discover rotten snow, and "distant" thunder should always be respected, even on partly cloudy days. That and its definitely not corn season yet. I think next weekend Ill go fishing.

    More Photos Here
    Last edited by HikeforTurns; 05-14-2007 at 04:40 PM.

  2. #2
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    Oct 2006
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    Nice writeup F.
    Great line, but it just was not meant to be.

    I am just happy everything turned out alright.
    Man, that moment with the buzzing was the scariest moment I have had so far in my life!!!

    On a positive note:
    At least we discovered a nice fishing spot.
    I probably have to revisit that creek this coming weekend if we do not get any decent freezes.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
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    Excellent!
    I always hate it when there is a bunch of hype for a storm. I also don't like how so many areas are predicting big totals. - alabamaskier

  4. #4
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    Almost seems close enough to me! Good write up for sure!
    -
    Check out my Blog .

    "Don't be afraid of the spaces between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so." - Belva Davis

    "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle"--Albert Einstein

  5. #5
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    Mar 2006
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    nice writeup and good-looking line
    was the snow change a function of time or aspect?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by homi View Post
    was the snow change a function of time or aspect?

    Not 100% sure what happen. Probably a combination of things.

    I think there might have been a temperature inversion in that region as well. I checked the snotel site at Vail Pass for that night. (Not very close, but the best I could find.) The low was 44 degrees on the pass that night!
    However our thermometer in the car at 6:30AM at the trailhead showed 30degrees and the snow had a solid freeze at 10,200ft.

    The approach took us a bit longer than anticipated. We should have just followed Missouri Creek. But we still had some cloud cover. So you would think that would be good enough on the north aspect. But the slight chance in aspect on top might have done the rest.

    But I really suspect that the snow never froze or just very slightly up there at 13,000ft because it was totally bottomless slush.

  7. #7
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    Feb 2004
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    Was wondering how things went... Sorry I couldn't join...but I guess the outcome means I can go with you for the do-over. Glad you guys were ok.

    HikeforTurns: you mentioned a couple lessons learned. 1) "The tops of couloirs are not a place you want to discover rotten snow." So...is that more of an observation? Or would you have done something differently? I mean...I know you mentioned if you had to do it over, once you started hitting the rotten snow, you think you should have turned around instead of staying "in" the crappy snowpack and exposing yourself. And sure...I get that. But...is there really anything more you can do...there isn't really anything you can do to "avoid" finding rotten snow at the top of a couloir, is there? At least in a situation similar as yours (sure, had the pack been rotten further down, that would have been a good sign...but in your case, all was well most of the way up). Do you think you're better off actually going up the ridge and checking the pack at the top of the couloir, before having to fully commit to being in it? It's a 2 way street...overall, I think I prefer going up the couloir to assess snowpack and other aspects of the line the whole way up so I know exactly what I'm dealing with...on the other hand, you certainly are very much "exposed" during the climb.

    As for t-storms...I had my "fun" experience at the top of democrat a couple years ago, just after a snowclimb up the north face and prep for a ski descent. I remember being amazed at how quickly things moved in that day...minimal warning.

    As for what you found on that north facing line, here was a blurb from the CAIC report on Friday: "N aspects have a less consolidated snowpack, and are rotting out faster then others that have gone through several melt freeze cycles, especially near and below treeline." The latter part doesn't apply, since you were above TL at that point...but, the rest of it may be a plausible explanation. In light of our warm overnight and warmer daytime temps, I'd think north and high, too. But, as you mentioned, were not in a corn cycle yet...at least on those north aspects. They just haven't gone through enough melt/freeze cycles to date. (I'm not implying you made a bad decision or anything...as I said, I would have been wanting a north facing, higher elevation line too...just looking for plausible explanations as to what you found)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
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    Nice report!

    It seems things are really variable, depending where you are in the state. When we were on Argentine, the snow was perfect on the NE face at about 10am and the snowpack had a pretty good freeze overall Friday night. Good to hear this report as I'm planning on trying Lackawana this weekend. I'll have to watch the snowpack and see what differences there are b/w what I saw over by Guanella Pass.

    I think everyone experiences the scary T-storm on top of a mountain feeling eventually. I remember hearing crackling/buzzing and seeing my partner's hair stand up once on Quandary followed by a quick glissade down the side of a mountain. scary stuff.
    Ride Fast, Live slow.

    We're mountain people. This is what we do, this is how we live. -D.C.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    399
    Damn, so glad I decided to sleep in that day.

    Sounds like you guys had a white knuckle time for a bit.

    Nice write up.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
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    That Arby's at Colfax and Simms
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    I've come to think of the chance of T-storms in CO as 100%. The actual percentages given by the NWS are more like a timing guide - 20-30% chance = 20-30% chance I'll get chased off a mountain by 11AM. You can never start climbing too early.

    That looks like a great line. Thanks for sharing.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by spthomson View Post
    Was wondering how things went... Sorry I couldn't join...but I guess the outcome means I can go with you for the do-over. Glad you guys were ok.

    HikeforTurns: you mentioned a couple lessons learned. 1) "The tops of couloirs are not a place you want to discover rotten snow." So...is that more of an observation? Or would you have done something differently? I mean...I know you mentioned if you had to do it over, once you started hitting the rotten snow, you think you should have turned around instead of staying "in" the crappy snowpack and exposing yourself. And sure...I get that. But...is there really anything more you can do...there isn't really anything you can do to "avoid" finding rotten snow at the top of a couloir, is there? At least in a situation similar as yours (sure, had the pack been rotten further down, that would have been a good sign...but in your case, all was well most of the way up). Do you think you're better off actually going up the ridge and checking the pack at the top of the couloir, before having to fully commit to being in it? It's a 2 way street...overall, I think I prefer going up the couloir to assess snowpack and other aspects of the line the whole way up so I know exactly what I'm dealing with...on the other hand, you certainly are very much "exposed" during the climb.

    As for t-storms...I had my "fun" experience at the top of democrat a couple years ago, just after a snowclimb up the north face and prep for a ski descent. I remember being amazed at how quickly things moved in that day...minimal warning.

    As for what you found on that north facing line, here was a blurb from the CAIC report on Friday: "N aspects have a less consolidated snowpack, and are rotting out faster then others that have gone through several melt freeze cycles, especially near and below treeline." The latter part doesn't apply, since you were above TL at that point...but, the rest of it may be a plausible explanation. In light of our warm overnight and warmer daytime temps, I'd think north and high, too. But, as you mentioned, were not in a corn cycle yet...at least on those north aspects. They just haven't gone through enough melt/freeze cycles to date. (I'm not implying you made a bad decision or anything...as I said, I would have been wanting a north facing, higher elevation line too...just looking for plausible explanations as to what you found)
    Interesting points Scott. I dont know If I would have done a whole lot differently. I suppose if we had climbed the ridge, we may have saved a little time and gotten into the couloir earlier, but who knows? I like to climb too, so I will always take the couloir climb if I believe it to be safe. As far as the lightning, thats a difficult thing to predict. Do you think clouds build more quickly with the large amount of snowmelt going on? It has to have an affect. Maybe its time to start camping at the TH? I dont think I want to get up much earlier then 4am to do the day trip.

  12. #12
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    By the way.....Nice reflection!

    Quote Originally Posted by HikeforTurns View Post

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