After reading iskibc's trip report from Easter Sunday, Tyler and I were itching to get up this couloir and ski back down it. I've been eyeing the climb for a year or two, so we decided to jump on it quick while the conditions still looked good. After leaving Boulder about 6am and getting some breakfast in Estes Park, we arrived at the Bear Lake TH about 7:30 and were on trail skinning up around 8am. The trail was still well covered with snow with only a few sections of trail melted out, leaving a pretty straightforward skin up. The approach is only about two miles, making this one of the more accessible couloirs for this time of the year.
The climb.We skinned part of the way up Dragon's Tail, but as the snow softened up and steepened my skins started to not grip so well, so I switched over to crampons and began the climb up the couloir. It went pretty well, the snow had a good consistency for climbing, not really powder or slush, but not too icy either. The crampons were definitely useful for grip, though. We spotted a couple decent sized wet slides from some time in the last few days, and there was a lot of blocky chunks of snow. We hoped it would get nice and sunbaked for the ski down.
On the approach, the right fork looked like a nicer ski, but a huge cornice at the top didn't look so nice, and as we approached the fork, the left branch looked like the best bet for safety and fun, so we headed that way.
Near the top of the left branch, there is a short rock step, maybe 5 to 8 feet or so. I've heard this refered to as the "5th class rock step" but I might only call it 4th class, I don't know, it's pretty easy, but a fall here could suck, especially in icier conditions. We decided it was kind of pointless to take our skis above the step, so we built a little ledge in the snow below the step, stashed our packs and ski gear and climbed up the rest of the couloir to have a little snack on top. Climbing the rock step with crampons on wasn't the easiest, as mine got stuck in a big crack and I struggled a bit to get them out. There is a fixed line up there as of now, which was nice; we had harnesses and some cord with us (along with a bunch of other climbing gear we didn't use) so we we tied some prusiks into the rope to feel a little safer (this helped out a bunch with my stuck crampon as I was able to weight my prusik and pry my foot out of the crack) and climbed the step.
Once past the step, it's maybe another hundred feet of snow climbing to the top, It's relatively steep, maybe 50 degrees or so. Topping out is a great feeling and accomanied by an incredible view of Long's Peak.
The Descent.After a short break on top, it was time for the ride down, so we downclimbed the top, frontpointing since it was a bit too steep for me to be comfortable plungestepping. It was nice practice to descend this way as well, then downclimbing the rock step with crampons on. Downclimbing always freaks me out a bit, so I enjoy getting a little practice in here and there. Back at the rock step, we collected all our gear and packed up for the ski down.
The adrenaline was flowing as we took turns skiing each section of the couloir. The narrow bit at the top was really good, soft sun baked snow. As we dropped down into the lower half of the couloir, the sun was already over the wall and the shadows were quickly cooling the snow on the skier's right of the couloir; this made for some really variable conditions and some of the blocky snow we hoped would be softened up was a little firm still. When we reached the base of the couloir, we were able to ski the wet slide paths (they seemed pretty stable at this point) which were nice and buttery smooth. Some of the slushier sections were sloughing off pretty readily, so we took our time here; I actually had some fun skiing across my slough to get the feel of how strong this thick snow can be. It gave me a good push downslope for sure.
Once back to the lake, we looked back up our line and reflected on the incredible day we just had. The weather was perfect and the snow remained very stable into the early afternoon. The descent down the trail was really quick, particularly right above Bear Lake as it was well covered and a nice gentle continous downhill slope.
All in all, an awesome day, excellent conditions, and a sweet climb/ski.