I arrived at the East Lake Marie Trailhead at about 5am and geared up. The snow on the trail looked well trampled, but I decided to bring my snowshoes anyway. I was glad I did, because I would have been postholing up to my knees once I broke off the trail. I followed a light track along the base of the Medicine Bow ridge and came upon a 4-tent camp - with the skiis posted outside, I figured they were intending to ski some of the intense couloirs along the ridge.
I broke away to avoid walking through their camp, and I headed north along the base towards Old Main, a spectacular sheer rock face on the ridge. After struggling through steep sidehill walking and old avalanche fallout, I arrived at the base of the Old Main Couloir, which flows down on the right side of Old Main face. I chose to ascend a small offshooting couloir of Old Main Couloir - a powder blanket covered massive amounts of rotten snow. The snow was crusty, allowing me to kick steps up what I estimated as 50+ degree snow slope with my crampons. About 2 weeks previous, I climbed Torreys Peak, CO via the Class III, 50 degree grade Dead Dog Couloir, and this slope seemed noticably steeper - possibly because there were no previous tracks to step into. My ice axe was essential and although it wasnt necessary, I like to have my rock helmet when climbing. I kicked up the couloir, being careful to avoid injury when I would break through the snow and jam my leg between two buried boulders.
Once I was out of the couloir, I scrambled north along the severely corniced ridge until I finally hit the Medicine Bow summit at about 7:45am. The weather had moved in on the ascent - it was now fully overcast/foggy with a light snow falling, so vision was decreasing. I decided not to mess around and get off the mountain before any nasty weather hit.
I trudged back down the ridge to the couloirs and crept down the Old Main Couloir to make sure there were no rocks or cliffs in my line of descent. I assesed a 55-60 degree, icy slope (no clinometer). It looked like I was sliding down a snowboarder's plowed trail - but it was clear, with the exception of rubble from a previous avalanche at the bottom. I sat down on the snow and using my ice axe as a brake, I glissaded on my ass down the Old Main Couloir...too bad the spike of my axe caught in the snow and I stabbed my leg with the pick end of the axe! Oh well, a little SeamGrip to repair the hole in my pants and it's all good.
After a short rest at the base of the couloir, I retraced my steps back towards the camp, where I found the group of about 8 fumbling around up on another couloir above their camp. As a whole, the group didn't seem to be very proficient on steep snow - there were frequent and flailing falls and a very odd formation. I suppose they could have just been playing around up there. I left my viewing point and followed the last leg to the trailhead, arriving back around 9am. By then the snow had increased, but not as much as I had feared on the ridge.
After some tunes and a can of pineapple sections, I buzzed over to Laramie, filled up my tank at $1.73/gal (righteous!) and headed back to a rainy Fort Collins.
It was a super trip, and I'm happy to see my mountaineering skills improving - a month ago, I would have never considered a climb like this, but not only did I do it, I did it in shitty weather and I did it solo! I'm stoked!
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