Grizzly north couloir (snow climb)

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jul 26, 2003
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Created On: Jul 27, 2003
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We climbed up Grizzly via the north couloir and descended via the west ridge. That an 8-miles, 3430 feet elevation loop which was just gorgious. We left Aspen at 6am, and reached the Grizzly Reservoir trailhead (elev: 10560 feet) at 6:50am.

To access this trailhead, drive 10 miles east on Colorado 82 from Aspen, turn south on Lincoln Creek Road, which is a dirt road accessible to all vehicles. With a normal passenger car, we did touch the bottom of the car a few times, but nothing serious. It's 6.1 mile to the dam, 0.3 miles more to the trailhead.

The hike up to Grizzly lake (elev: 12500 feet) which stands at the bottom of the north Grizzly couloir is beautiful. It's a 3.2 mile hike with 2000 feet elevation to climb up, mainly at the end of the trail when reaching the lake. In the trail description, it was recommended to hike around the lake on the norh side, which we did, but we found afterwards that the south side must have been easier. The north side is indeed a steep slope of loose talus which is not so pleasant. The south side slope looks more gradual and less loose.

After going around the lake, we stood at the bottom of the couloir. It's a 45 - 50 degrees wide couloir, without much rock falls, which makes it a very safe couloir. That was the first snow climb for two people in our group, so it's definitively not a hard place to climb, when the conditions are good. The conditions were better than what we expected from talking to people in Aspen before leaving. Because of the recent heat, they had predicted very little snow (which would have make this climb impossible - or at least quite annoying on very steep loose talus). The snow was in fact continuous up to the ridge: this couloir definitively holds snow until end of july even after a hot month ! We had only ice-axes but no crampons since the only place where it seemd possible to rent crampons couldnt provide us with 5 pairs of nicely-fitting crampons. So we had decided that we climb this couloir only if the snow is soft enough to safely go without crampons, or we dont.

We started climbing the snow field, and it looked soft enough to attempt the climb. Everything was just perfect (snow condition, slope, nice views, nice weather...) until 3/4 of the couloir. At this point, since there was running water close from the surface, the snow turned to ice. We could go around this first patch of ice on some muddy rocks, before reaching again some nice snow. Unfortunately, it didnt last until the ridge, ice appeared again. We had to traverse a few meters to the left to reach rocks again. These few meters were quite icy, and at this point we regretted the lack of crampons, but we all made it through safely, and finished climbing the couloir on steep loose talus. This part was not so fun (1 step up, 2 steps down), but at least safe. These detours made us loose 1 hour, whereas we would have finished the climb on the snow/ice quite fast with crampons. Morality...

On the ridge, the view is just gorgious. We reached Grizzly summit by hiking 0.2 miles south on the ridge. We enjoyed for 5 minutes our successful climb, but didnt stay much more as it was geeting late (noon) and the sky was becomming threatening.

In our hurry to get back down, we didnt follow the right path (there was anyway no trail anywhere on this mountain as it is never crowded - missing 12 feet to become a 14-er - and as it is made of loose rocks and talus, the trail would anyway disappear quite fast), which complicated our way down. Instead of following the ridge to the south to reach a basin from which an easy gulch just falls down back to the river (in principle), we descended directly in the north-most gulch. We knew we had to go more south, but it was not so obvious where to cross south from the summit, so we thought we had to go down a little bit to find an easier way to go south. There was no easier way until much more down, so we should just have gone directly south from the summit. Our way down was on very loose talus (we all surfed a few times on small rock avalanches, which is fun when controlled). We tried to traverse back to where we thought the trail should have been, which was long and tireing, and maybe we should have just climbed down to the bottom of this north gulley where we started out going down.

In any case, we were down safely to the river (near the 4-wheel drive parking at 10920 feet, 2.5 miles away from the regular car parking at the dam) around 2pm. We walked down most of the 2.5 miles, and hitched the only 4x4 going down a bit before the dam. The 5 of us could fit in the back of the truck, and the short ride was chaotic, but lots of fun !

In conclusion, this loop is adventurous and gorgious. We got to experience in the same day walking in meadows, climbing up snow, surfing on loose talus ;-), and riding a 4-wheel truck (and I didnt talk about way finding in the forest and other funny details). It is completely in the wild (we only met 2 campers at Grizzly lake, and the 4-wheel truck during the whole trip - the mountain was ours, and only ours :-).

I am not sure that I would have enjoyed the hike up the west face, the north couloir climb makes this hike much more fun (and less tireing: climbing up snow is much easier than hiking up loose talus). So I would highly recommend going this way, which is even accessible to snow-beginners if accompagned by at least one experienced person (and only if snow is continuous in the couloir).


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Grizzly north couloir (snow climb)

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