North Timpanogos via The Grunge CouloirA year ago I stood on the summit ridge of North Timpanogos Peak looking down the Grunge Couloir with my climbing partners, Matt and Sean after coming up from the much tamer Cold Fusion Couloir. As we looked down and watched a few good sized rocks shoot down the steep slopes like missiles we commented that you would have to be crazy to climb that thing. Fast forward a year. Matt and I had been planning a return climb of North Timp via Cold Fusion for a few weeks, but our fickle spring weather had continually thwarted our attempts. We finally had a near perfect forecast and we both had a window where we could squeeze in a climb, so we had a plan… or so we thought.
Matt received a message from another SP member, Dustin about attempting The Grunge Couloir on the same day. I had been hearing stories about the Grunge for a few years now, and while I was definitely intrigued, I was also a little uneasy. I knew it was a steep (60 degree +) slope that was known for its rotten rock and frequent rock fall, and that very few people ever attempt it. The crux of the route is where the rock walls on both sides become very narrow, and all of the falling rock is funneled through. There isn’t any way to get around this because the rock walls are steep and rotten. Adding to my uneasiness was the fact that I had recently read about the route in the book The Chuting Gallery, and I remembered them giving this route an S6 rating. The authors definition of an S6 route in the book says “Slopes continuously steeper than 55 degrees, Painful death from falling highly likely”. I was very apprehensive about it, but Matt talked me into it, and I am glad he did.
We knew we would need an early start to get in and out of the chute before the sun started baking the slope, so we met at 3:50 am. We threw everything in my car and soon we were winding our way up American Fork Canyon on our way to the Timpanookee trailhead. With the current spring runoff being as bad as it has been in several years, I did get a little concerned about leaving my car at the trailhead when we had to cross a small stream that had spilled out of its banks and was coming over the road, but by time we reached loop B and parked I felt a little better.
We geared up and started up the trail past the gate, but after only a few hundred yards the trail ran right into a rather large stream that was obviously swollen from all of the runoff. We were really concerned about making our way up to the Wooly Hole, as we could see several waterfalls coming off of the rocks, and we knew there would be a lot of water and marsh to go through. We decided to go back and look for another way. Just past the gate there is a faint trail going right (#151) that we decided to take after looking at the topo map. This heads toward the North Ridge and is part of the Great Western Trail. We stayed on the trail and gained a lot of elevation, but eventually we had to gain the top of the ridge and leave it behind. There was however a nice game track to follow. As soon as we could get onto the slopes heading South we turned left and started making our way up to the Wooly Hole. We alternated from snow to rock and made our way up. This is the perfect way to get to the Grunge and we didn’t have to Bushwhack at all. Eventually the slope takes you above the Wooly and just below the Grunge couloir.
This is where my heart really started to beat. The Grunge is pretty intimidating, and as we geared up I was blown away by the beauty of the place. You really can’t beat these views. We decided to rope up just in case the conditions warranted placing some pickets higher up on the slope. We figured it wasn’t necessary, but just to be safe we would do it then instead of messing with the rope on the slope.
Matt let out a yell “Let’s get dirty” and then recited a few lines from some grunge rock band and we were off up the chute. The apron was covered in rocks that had come down, but the snow wasn’t as dirty as we had expected. About 5 minutes in and we had our first rock careening down the runnel that runs right down the middle of the couloir. It got my heart going, but also put a smile on my face. The adrenaline was pumping now and it was fun. A few more minutes and more rocks came tumbling down. Most of them were small, but occasionally one would come down that could do some serious damage if it connected with any part of your body.
The climbing was fun. We settled into a nice rhythm with Dustin leading, me in the middle and Matt taking up the rear. We had a good pace and the snow conditions were near perfect. We could boot up without a problem and there was no need for crampons. We made really good time, although we stopped a lot to capture the sheer beauty of this place. The views are absolutely incredible. The higher we climbed the more rocks we saw coming off of the cliffs above, and all seemingly finding the runnel. There were two smaller runnels on the side of the main one that we also had to be careful of and occasionally they would find their way in those as well.
Dustin did a great job of route finding and we did have to move closer to the runnels to avoid some moats, and it did provide us with some extra excitement. Eventually we came to the funnel, which about 5 feet wide, and the majority of the rocks had already reached a significant speed when they tumbled through. It was pretty dirty here and there were a lot of smaller rocks littering the slope. We took a short break to catch our breath because we knew we would have to move quickly through and not stop at all. This was definitely the scariest section of the day, and might have been the most dodgy place I have been in the entire Wasatch. While we waited we saw a few more rocks come through.
After we all caught our breath we made a run for it. We moved fast. The snow was a little more firm here, but we had to go quickly. We all made it up and through without a single rock coming down, and as soon as we got up the slope and out of the way a few more rocks came down. We did breathe a little easier, although the next challenge was waiting just around the corner.
The slope gets really steep after the funnel and reached 60+ degrees before you can make your way out. The top of the couloir is guarded by steep slopes of rotting rock and a massive cornice. We traversed to our right and found an opening between the cliff and the huge wall of snow. It was actually quite an adrenaline rush because an un-arrested fall here would almost surely result in your death. We had to slowly make our way to the opening, and then it took a few minutes to get out because the rock was so chossy and rotten.
Eventually, we all made it out and were greeted by the cold wind that was pounding the summit ridge from the west. We found a small wall of rock to duck behind, and we all made our gear adjustments and decided to get a bite to eat as well. I think we were all breathing a little easier and looking back down the Grunge was an amazing sight. We had done it.
We scrambled up to the summit of North Timpanogos, where we all signed the register and laughed about our entries from the year before. We had talked about traversing over to Bomber Peak, but the cold wind helped make our decision for us. We would descend down the Cold Fusion Couloir, which would provide us with a 3,000 foot glissade.
We made our way over to the sub peak and then down into the Cold Fusion where we all enjoyed a nice ride back to the trail below. The snow conditions weren’t perfect, but decent enough to ride almost the entire way down. Once we made it down we all shed our warm clothes and headed back the few miles to the car where I had stashed some Powerade in a cooler. It was such a good feeling looking back up the Grunge, and our day had been almost perfect. Great friends, a fantastic route, unbeatable views, and a lot of adrenaline. The Grunge has it all. To see a short video of our climb check out this link: Grunge Video