photo- A look at the Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak from North Star Mountain. photo by "greenhouseguy" from 14ers.com, 2010
Quandary-Cristo Couloir 2010
-members of trip: Mike Bannister, Joel Paula, and Zach Taylor
-ascent route: east ridge
-descent route: Cristo Couloir
It is springtime and I had been getting the itch to ride a big line. With the finicky snowpack this year I held off until 4/10. Mike and I had toured up to Blue Lakes on a failed attempt of Fletcher mountain two days prior. While unsuccessful that day we did get the opportunity to scout the Cristo Couloir from its base. It seemed to be in a solid melt freeze(atleast at the base of the couloir). I used skinning crampons to cross the ice beneath the couloir. Looking up the line I did not see any windpillows and there seemed to be no fresh snow in this drainage from the previous weeks snowstorm.
We decided that this would be the first couloir descent of the season. Both Mike and I had ridden the line multiple times in previous years. We knew there were decent safe zones through much of the couloir and now we had first hand information to motivate us to action. Plans were set. I called up my friend Joel and he said he was in too. Joel and I drove to the trailhead on 4/9 and set up camp. We cooked some tacos and drank Old Chubs around a fire. Mike had to work that night so he met us early in the morning the next day at 5:15 am.
We started skinning about 5:45am with the early morning light just begining to show. The trail was icy with patches of ground showing down low. It is definitely looking like spring in the high country. The frozen ground at the trailhead lent me confidence with our line. Last night had seen a solid freeze.
I was somewhat aphrehensive about the possibility of wet slab avalanches earlier in the day than normal for spring because of warm weather and a still complex snowpack. We were planning on descending the east bowls/ridge if the couloir conditions looked sketchy.
photo- A curious bird that visited us while breaking just beneath treeling on the east ridge. photo by Zach Taylor, 2010
We stopped at treeline on the east ridge to eat a little and so I could put on my skinning crampons for the ascent up the upper east ridge. Skinning crampons are quite useful on this route particularly on the part of the east ridge that parallels the upper east bowl. With skinning crampons I was easily able to skin all the way to the summit. Both Mike and Joel had to remove their skis and boot up the last bit. The upper east ridge is generally windscoured and steep. The convoluted, hard snow surface makes it difficult for the entire length of your skins to maintain contact with the snow. Consequently most skinners have to boot the last section. Its not bad, just something to keep in mind if you are planning on ascending the east ridge without ski crampons.
photo- Mike Bannister(left) and Joel Paula ascending the east ridge. photo by Zach Taylor, 2010
The day warmed considerably and the winds were mild on this windy peak. We made good progress and summited about 9:00 am. We were excited to see that the snowline in the couloir went all the way up to the summit. We would be able to get a direct summit descent. Mike dug a pit in the top of the couloir in an area we assesed to be relatively safe. Here are the results and observations we made of the couloir's stability:
-The first column compression test we did(in the top of the couloir) scored a 30. It took a good bit of pounding on the block afterwards to get it to move. When it did it moved at the basil facets. We picked up the block and threw it on the ground. At this point the column fractured in two places revealing two other potential weak layers that where unreactive to this test. -The second CCTest showed small fracture propagation at 18 but did not break off completely or move any more all the way up to 30 afterwords. The fracture propagation occured about 1.5' beneath the snow surface on an ice layer. No other movement occured. -There was a boot track climbing up the couloir and ski tracks in it from the previous day. Both pits showed multiple ice layers in the upper snowpack and basil facets at the base of the snowpack. Both seemed less reactive in the snow than earlier season's observations. The snow pack was by no means homogenized though. We rode down about 9:20am. I believe that there would be potential earlier than normal in the day for wet avalanches because any melting water in the upper snowpack would pool on ice layers in the snow pack and generate wet avalanches easily. There definitely seems to be a trend towards a melt freeze cycle but like the CAIC says we are not there yet. I do not believe fresh slab build up on the upper parts of Cristo up to be a problem currently on this slope. This drainage seems to have received little or no snow from this last storm. Wet slabs are a currrent issue as well as any fresh slabs that might develop with any new potential snow.
photo- Zach Taylor riding the Cristo Couloir. photo by Mike Bannister, 2010
We discussed test results and everyone agreed that the stability in the couloir was sound. I dropped in first slope cutting across a convexity at the entrance to the couloir. I made a few more turns and pulled off to a safe zone on the side of the couloir where I waited for Mike and Joel to descend one at a time down to me. We continued down the couloir leapfrogging each other and enjoying some nice wide open steep turns.
photo- Zach Taylor descending Cristo. photo by Mike Bannister, 2010
Here are some more action shots. Enjoy!
photo- Joel Paula(left) sking the couloir with another party that was sking the couloir behind us looking on. photo by Mike Bannister, 2010
photo- Joel Paula (left picture) and Zach Taylor(right picture descending the couloir. both photos by Mike Bannister, 2010
photo- Joel Paula enjoying some nice turns. photo by Zach Taylor, 2010
There were smiles all around as we reached the base of the couloir. It was great to get out and ride a couloir again. Spring is here!
The snow conditions in the couloir varied a decent bit as we descended. Most of it was fairly hard pack and refrozen snow. As we neared the bottom we got some good corn-like conditions in areas that had exposed dust on the snow surface. These had thawed quickly and provided some of the best turns of the descent.
We walked over some ground by the dam and then strapped back in and skied the road all the way back to the Monte Cristo trailhead. We spaced out several hundred feet on the upper part as it crosses beneath several couloirs and chutes that bisect the south face of Quandary. It was a nice day and I believe around my 13th snowboard descent of this easily accessed 14er.