Close call in the Conundrum Couloir

Page Type
Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jun 24, 2006
2765 Hits
73.06% Score
Log in
to vote
Page By:
Created On: Jun 29, 2006
Last Edited On: Jun 29, 2006

The Approach

Saturday's skiing adventure was quite an exciting time. We left Breckenridge at 11pm Friday night as planned and drove to Aspen over Independence Pass. I felt like crap and was really tired, dozing in and out along the way, but I tried really hard to stay awake while Mic drove. With a 4 mile drive up a 4x4 road (which seemed pretty gnarly in the dark), we arrived at 12,500 feet and the end of the road at 3am. We figured we had plenty of time and took an hour nap. This actually really helped me a lot, and at 4 I felt ready to get my shit together and get on the trail.

The Climb

The sun started to peek over the mountains to the east fairly quickly, so we didn't hike by headlamp for too long. I misread the map and took a sharp right up the basin from the end of the road, but the traverse around the top of the basin into the correct cirque wasn't too dificult. There was a lot of snow still, and the upper slopes of the basin were totally filled in, so, after a few sketchy falls and sliding in my hiking shoes, I put my boots and crampons on. This made the going easier, and we quickly climbed to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum Peaks (13,800 ft.). We dropped the packs here and ran up the last 400 feet to the summit of Castle. The climb was good scrambling on loose rock with some steep views in places. The summit was gorgeous with some great views of Pyramid Peak and the Bells to the west. Across the valley, Conundrum Couloir on the East side of Conundrum peak was in full view. It looked to be 600-700 feet long, 40-50 degree slope, and 10 feet or so wide at the narrowest point - and it was totally full of snow. I was feeling a little crappy and not sure if I was up for the skiing, but Mic was all about it and egging me on, so I was in. We gingerly descended down the rocky ridge and grabbed our packs, heading up the other ridge from the saddle to Conundrum. After summiting our second 14,000 foot peak for the day, we took a break at the top of the couloir; the snow was still rather hard, and it was only 10am-ish, so we decided to wait a half hour to let the sun do it's work on the chute we were about to ski.

The Ski

It softened up a bit after awhile, and about 10:30 we geared up and prepared for our descent. I skied the top half first, and skied it rather poorly. It was steep enough, hard enough, and narrow enough to require jump turns most of the way, and not having skied for about 2 months, I skied it like crap, hip checking the slope almost every turn. In the choke, it was maybe 10 feet or so wide and shaded. The lack of sun left this part of the couloir a sheet of bulletproof ice, so I side-slipped through it, coming to a stop next to a rock out cropping. At this point, I yelled up to Mic, telling him to go, and I'd take some pictures as he descended. Mic started off making a few turns and stopped just above the choke. He bitched about all the suncups and the inconsistency of the snow, commenting how it was much more dificult then he'd expected. I was just about to warn him about the ice when he took a big turn that was supposed to stop right on the ice; Mic's edges didn't hold and he slid the whole 15 feet of ice. Unfortunately this was also the narrowest and steepest part of the couloir at 47degrees and Mic built up a lot of speed. Once he slid off the ice, his skis stuck in some slush just below the choke and he started tumbling and picking up even more speed. His fall become more and more uncontrolled and he continued to flip head over heels, narrowly missing me and headed straight for the rock outcrop below me; somehow, just before the rock, he was able to twist his body more towards the middle of the chute and only his boot and ski hit the rock. Mic continued to flail down the couloir groaning loudly with every flip, and leaving one ski back at the rock outcrop. I waited where I was until I didn't hear him any more, and called out. He responded that he was okay, but he sounded quite a ways downslope, out of sight. I put my camera in my pocket and quickly began to ski down to him. I forgot to zip up the pocket, though, and the camera sailed out onto the slope, crashed into a rock and exploded into a few pieces (damn, no more pictures for awhile). Hoping Mic was alright, I didn't really care about the camera and continued to ski down. I reached the rock where his ski lay, and I found his tele binding in two pieces. The impact with the rock had severed the cable, which would explain why the ski separated from Mic's boot. I grabbed the ski and continued to descend. Once Mic came into view, it appeared he was alright, but he had tumbled 300 feet down the couloir, about half the total distance. I collected the rest of his things as I skied down, and we regrouped at the bottom of the couloir. We reflected on how much worse that could have turned out.

The Finish

Once we repacked our gear, we began the trudge out across the snow. We made it back to the truck at Noon happy to be safe and in one piece. The drive back to Frisco to get my car and then back to Boulder for work seemed to last forever. I worked until 2am and crashed shortly after that. I'd been up for about 36hours with an hour of sleep in the middle. Damn that was exhausting, but well worth it. Looks like we might be climbing Holy Cross Couloir on Mt. of the Holy Cross this Tuesday. Hopefully, it doesn't get quite as sketchy as skiing Conundrum.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-2 of 2

ktiffany22 - Jun 30, 2006 5:47 am - Hasn't voted


LUCKY?? I had a friend who "glissaded" the coulier.... not so smart.... ICE year round is definetly not a good ski! Glad everyone's okay!
(we met on the Blanca trip this year, hiked right behind ya)


crzyjt - Jul 1, 2006 2:47 am - Hasn't voted


Hi, I remember you. Glad you guys escaped that nasty storm on Blanca. The skiing wasn't all that bad. The ice was a pretty small section of the couloir; you just had to be prepared for it.

Viewing: 1-2 of 2