Descent Route: South Face Couloir
January 24, 2006
Today I knocked off peak #2 of my project, Mt. Quandary, near Hoosier pass, in the Ten Mile Range. Quandary is 14,265 ft. high and lies about 10 miles south of Breckinridge, just north of Mt. Lincoln, which we skied on the 22nd of January. The reason I chose Quandary for today was that I spied a great line on the South Face from Mt. Lincoln, and had to go hit it while it was in good condition. That being said, we probably won't return to this area until later in the season when there is more snow on these slopes. Deeper zones are calling in other parts of the state.
My friend Ted Mahon of Aspen joined me for the adventure today. Ted is a seasoned mountaineer with an ascent of Mt. Everest under his belt as well as almost all the Colorado 14ers, many on skis. The weather could not have been more perfect for ski mountaineering today. We left the car at the Monte Cristo trailhead (10,900 ft.) at 9:06 a.m. and made quick progress up through tree line on the standard East Ridge route. This route is very straight forward on skins, and is also great on snowshoes. At the trailhead we ran into "Horton", an infamous, well-endowed yellow lab who "waits" for parties getting ready to climb Quandary and accompanies them. Ted has heard that Horton has almost 90 ascents under his collar, which would definitely make him the all-time Quandary summit leader. Indeed, Horton joined us to the summit, and then proceeded to "drop in" on our steep ski descent.
With Horton in tow we summited the East Ridge in two hours. There has been a good amount of traffic on Quandary, judging by the various ski, snowshoe, and foot tracks we saw going up. We also spied some nice ski tracks coming down the East Ridge Bowl. When we left the car the temp. was 3 degrees, but by the time we got to the top it was a balmy 25 degrees with nary a breath of wind. I actually stood on the summit in a short-sleeved shirt for 5 minutes in total comfort, which for January is certainly unusual. In any case, after tossing Horton a couple Clif Bar nuggets and discussing potential ski descents for the next week, we got ready to descend our line.
My wife Jesse and I had skied the fantastic Cristo Couloir a few years back in glorious corn conditions, and at that time I checked out another gully east of the Cristo, down the ridge. When I saw it again from Mt. lincoln the other day, it looked good to go, so we headed for this steep line, which drops directly from the upper East Ridge to the Monte Cristo reservoir roughly 2500 feet below. The snow in the gully was stable, wind deposited slab, with pockets of soft stuff and zones of harder crust. Fortunately none of it was breakable, and Ted and I were able to link lots of turns, one at a time, down the gully. The most interesting part of this line came at the bottom, where, in Alaska fashion, the slope rolled away and we couldn't see the exit. We cautiously negotiated several rock bands, with good soft snow in between, and the skied out on the apron of the gully.
Hopefully the photos to the right will do this route justice, as it is one of the finer winter descents I have done. It is not every day that you can get on a 40 degree line for 2500 ft. and feel reasonably safe in the winter, unless maybe it was a narrow couloir. Anyway, we were back at the car at 12:17, for a round trip time of 3:11, which we both felt was reasonably strong for this time of year.
Now I'm faced with a week off as I do TV announcing for ABC and ESPN at the Winter X Games in Aspen. But I'm very much looking forward to next week when I will be hitting the peaks hard and be joined by good friend and pro photographer Christian Pondella.
Thanks for checking in, and I'll be back at it on the 1st or 2nd of February.
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