Dead Elk couloir (Flattop mt., with maps and climbing diagram)

Dead Elk couloir (Flattop mt., with maps and climbing diagram)

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.31154°N / 105.67863°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 21, 2016
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

Dead Elk couloir (Flattop mt., with maps and climbing diagram)

I found Dead Elk an easier climb than the adjacent Dragon's Tail couloirs. The open bottom section is the largest elevation gain, with the incline topping out near 40 degrees. The base is east facing and may melt out as the season progresses, i.e., after May. 

The chute does become more constrained - approaching a classical couloir (tunnel) in the middle section, which locally approached 50 degrees. I passed an assortment of exposed rocks on a good snow pack year, suggesting that this section does not typically fill in completely. That would decrease the skier use in winter, relative to Dragon's Tail. The crux of the climb occurs as a rock band at the top (narrowest) part of the middle section, at N40.31114 W105.67709 at 11,650'. A smaller rock band occurs shortly above the first. I used the snow to climb over the low point just to the left of the middle. I imagine it is also possible to climb around where a little snow extend up on the right. In a lean snow year or late season, i could imagine the rock might approach a more formidable cliff. One might chose to bring a short rope (30 m would cover both rock bands) and a set of cams in leaner conditions. I did find brief skiers' descriptions online describing a rappel. Clearly this would refer to the crux at the top of the middle section.

The upper section approached 50 degrees and was an easy exit - broadening out onto the plateau near Flattop mt. I recommend snowshoes and poles for those trekking back along the Flattop mt. trail. The alpine snow will be softening by the time you are descending to the Bear lake lot. My pack was 23.5 lbs with snowshoes.
With warm weather the day before (the first 80+ degree day in Denver) and warmer temperatures forecast for Sat 5/21, I found a modest overnight freeze. The snow quickly melted, so i was glad to have an early start. There was plenty of evidence of recent wet slide activity (perhaps from the day before). I followed the biggest chutes and trails in couloir which were hardest packed, but softening considerably with the sun. 

Departed Denver at 2:30 am.
Arrived Bear lake at 4:15.
Departed Bear lake at 4:30.
Arrived Dragons Tail couloir base at 5:40.
Arrived top Dead Elk col. at 9:30.
Departed Dragons tail col. at  10:30 am.
Arrived Bear lake 12:55 pm.

Link to photos:


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