6/18/2011

ascent route: northeast couloir

descent route: Grizzly couloir (north-northwest couloir)

members of group: Craig Burger, Mike Hood, and Zach Taylor
13,988' Grizzly Peak
photo- A look at the Grizzly Couloir on Grizzly Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
     After climbing and riding Missouri Mountain on the 17th, Mike and I made our way to the Grizzly Reservoir trailhead to hopefully ride the Grizzly couloir the next day.  Craig had called me a couple days ago about skiing on Saturday, the 18th, his birthday.  I had not seen Craig in a while and I was psyched to get up with him for a birthday ski in the Sawatch.  Mike and I had made plans for Grizzly already so I ran that by him and he was down.  Craig decided to drive up in the morning of the 18th to meet us.
     Grizzly peak used to be considered a 14er but was resized by the USGS many years ago at 13,988' bringing it below the 14,000' mark.  This is a good thing as the mountain sees less traffic now than it would otherwise.  Grizzly has the distinction of being the highest non 14er in Colorado.
     Mike and I camped at the campground next to the trailhead on the night of the 17th.  We grilled some pork loin and hit the sack early. 
     Craig showed up a little after 5 with his two dogs, Kya and Kussum and the five of us (three people, 2 dogs) starting hiking up the trail towards Grizzly's north face.  We walked through patchy snow for a couple miles.  At treeline the snow started to become fairly continous so we took our planks off our packs, attached skins, and began to skin up the valley, quite happy to lose the weight of boards/skis on our backs for a bit.  
photo- Craig Burger and Mike Hood putting on skins at snowline next to Grizzly Creek.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
    The weather again did not look good.  The sky was almost completely covered in clouds and a layer of low clouds shrouded Grizzly from view as we skinned up to it high in the basin.  Things were not looking too promising.  We took a break at about 12,000' to see if the coulds would lift off Grizz enough for us to make an attempt. 
    Amazingly the clouds did lift off and we were able to continue up the mountain.
photo- Zach Taylor and Craig Burger taking a break beneath Grizzly Peak.  photo by Mike Hood, 2011.
     As we wound into the basin beneath Grizzly Peak the northeast couloir came down directly above us and the Grizzly couloir wound up the face to climber's right.  Since the northeast couloir paralleled the Grizzly couloir and was a little closer to where we were at the time we decided to ascend the northeast couloir and descend the northwest (Grizzly) couloir.
photo- Craig and Kussum beneath the Grizzly Couloir.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Mike Hood skinning up to the base of the Grizzly Couloir.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
     The snow steepened as we got into the couloir and I was getting some blisters from my boots being wet from the previous day on Missouri Mountain.  I was kind of surprised since I have not had blisters in a long time.  We stopped, I fixed my feet with mole skin and we switched over to crampons and axes and began climbing up the couloir.  Craig pulled out his cape for the climb.  It is the source of his mountaineering powers.  Hehe.
photo- Mike Hood, Craig Burger, and Kya making their way up the lower couloir.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011
photo- Craig Burger climbing Grizzly Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Mike Hood stoked in the northeast couloir of Grizzly Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
    The angle steepened gradually as we made our way up the couloir.  The snow was in perfect condition for kicking steps and we took turns beating in the bootpack as we climbed.  Near the top of the couloir we climbed around a steep snow face on the climber's right side of the couloir and gained the still snow covered shoulder that divides the northeast couloir from the Grizzly couloir.  We got our first look down the Grizzly couloir then.  It looked like a really fun, sustained, steep pitch.  Grins went all around as we topped out on Grizzly's summit ridge by climbing over a small cornice above the couloirs.
photo- Craig Burger, Kya, and Mike Hood climbing out of the couloir onto the shoulder between the two couloirs.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Craig Burger and Mike Hood near the top of the northeast couloir on Grizzly.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Craig Burger, Kya, and Mike Hood on the shoulder between the two north face couloirs.  The top of the Grizzly couloir is the one pictured in the background of this picture. photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
     I had never been on this steep of a snow climb with dogs.  I wondered when we first got there how well the dogs would do when I was looking up at the couloir.  They did really well and stayed with us the whole time.  It is amazing what these two dogs could climb up without crampons or axes.  I think the power of Craig's cape helped them.
     The ridge was dry from there so we dropped packs at the top of the couloir and walked the ridge across to Grizzly's summit to enjoy some views of the northern Sawatch range.  
photo- Craig and his axe, "Old Blue," and Mike Hood enjoying Grizzly's summit.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Zach Taylor on the summit of Grizzly Peak.  photo by Craig Burger, 2011.
    After the requisite summit photos we walked the ridge back down to our gear at the top of the couloir.  Another ski party of three from New Mexico topped out while we were eating lunch at the top of the couloir.  We talked to them for a bit before gearing up for the drop in.  There is a small cornice that blocks most of the entrance to the Grizzly couloir.  It is possible to figure your way around it.  We just jumped the cornice.  It is not real big but the landing is steep and you could end up at the bottom of the couloir after bouncing off cliff walls and rocks if you botch your landing, so be real sure of your abilities before jumping off this one.
photo- Kussum at the top of the Grizzly couloir.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Zach Taylor in the Grizzly couloir.  photo by Craig Burger, 2011.
photo- Kya and Kussum on Griizzly.  photo by Craig Burger, 2011.
photo- Mike Hood hucking himself off the Grizzly couloir entrance.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Craig at the top of the Grizzly couloir.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
     Mike had been competing in big mountain riding competitions all year and did not think twice as he took a big air into the couloir and landed it perfectly.  He slid down the couloir on edge to slow down for about 50 feet before making some more jump turns down the couloir.  He stopped halfway down to wait for us.  Craig went next and I followed.  We both took smaller airs onto the steep pitch in the couloir and enjoyed jump turns down to Mike.  We continued down the couloir.  This couloir is a classic for sure.  Nice steep, consistant fall line vert, few crowds (since its not a 14er), and great views make this an excellent descent.
photo- Craig and Kussum enjoying the goods.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Mike Hood riding the Grizzly couloir.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Craig Burger skiing the Grizz.  photo by Mike Hood, 2011.
photo- Craig Burger skiing the Grizz.  photo by Mike Hood, 2011.
     We came out of the couloir and traversed north around Grizzly Lake and slowly made our way back down into the valley to snowline.  We switched over to shoes and hiked the trail out to the trailhead through patchy, slushy snow.
photo- Craig showing off his Glacier Grubs flag with Kya hanging out.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
     A good time was had by all.  A pretty mountain, with a super classic descent line, and a nice wilderness setting made the trip.  Craig took off as he had family coming into town for his birthday and Mike and I went back to camp to break it down and head home ourselves.  Another great June day of riding in the high country.  Wow this has been an incredible season!
photo- A look at our ascent/descent lines.  Left is the ascent line and right is the descent line.  photo by Mike Hood, 2011.