May 07, 2011

Skiing the Common Wealth Couloir - Redux

The North Couloir of Common Wealth.

Two days ago, on May 6, Ben F and I went to check out the North Couloir on Common Wealth Peak. I'd been there a few weeks previously with Craig and Gery and couldn't help but think it would be a cool party trick to ski in from the top and see what happens. The couloir is about 300 meters and sports two small cliffs. We went prepared for pretty much anything and brought along a few pins, nuts, 1/4 inch bolts and a liter of tequila.

The thing that attracted me to this line was that you could ski in to it right off the summit. The initial slope is super inviting and lures you in with the promise of steep turns over a lurking drop. I was stoked that Ben agreed to come along despite the fact that he's had some bad luck in K-Country before.

I don't think either one of us was sure how it would play out when we started down. Ben stayed on top and waited for me to give him a holler when I'd rigged an anchor above the first cliff. Of course, things didn't work out as planned. I skied down until about 25 feet above the cliff and stopped in the middle of the slope. The rock on the right wall was totally shattered. The rock on the left looked better but my skis were pointing the wrong direction. I didn't want to lose any more elevation so I started the slow process of kicking out a small platform and taking off the skis. (I'd popped out of a ski unexpectedly a few days before and spent three hours searching for it while my "friends" abandoned me and shredded most of Mt. Haddo. Bastards! You can read a funny account of that day on Gery-atrics blog). In the meantime, Ben decided that he wasn't going to ski the upper slopes and started bootpacking down. Once re-united, we discussed our options and decided to build an anchor on the skiers left side of the couloir.

There are easier things in life than building anchors in the Rockies. Luckily, Ben comes from a long line of Rockies technicians and was up to the task. He pounded in a knifeblade and a 1/4 inch bolt and promised to send me a weighty invoice for his services. Since we only had a 30 meter rope, we extended the anchor with a cordalette. The rope barely hit the slope below and Ben rapped first and continued down-climbing towards the next cliff. I rapped next and stomped out a small perch to transition back in to the skis. I pulled the rope and waited for Ben to tuck out of the way before starting down and shelling him with debris.

The next cliff was guarded by a narrow choke not really wide enough for most skis. My skis are 177 and had me wishing that I'd dipped in to my room mates snow blade collection for this section. I could have easily taken my skis off for this rap, but for whatever reason, I had it in my grape-sized brain that it would be cool to keep the skis on for the duration of the line.

Once Ben set-up the anchor (a single 1/4 inch bolt), things got pretty Charlie Chaplinesque as I asked him to spot me - "Hold my ski! Hold my ski!" - while I inched my way down through the narrow section of rock and snow. Eventually, Ben grew tired of my antics and started the rap. I was still above the anchor and clipped in long so Ben reminded me that I might not want to take a factor 2 fall on to the bolt. That was really good advice and I appreciated his keen mountain sense.

Ben climbing the regular route on Common Wealth. This would also be a good descent right off the summit with steep turns over a looming abyss.

The entrance to the North Couloir. Come hither... Come hither....

What I forgot to mention was that I actually hired Ben of Global Mountain Solutions to help manage the couloir safely. Ben did an excellent job and I would recommend him for your next mountain project.

Below the first cliff, looking down at Ben as he searches for a second anchor.

Good times at the O.K. Corral

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