how to Wham couloir (Otis peak)

how to Wham couloir (Otis peak)

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.29427°N / 105.6697°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 15, 2017
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

Climb of the couloir named after the rock feature near its top on Sat 2017/4/15.

Our route described/mapped covers a 3300' elevation gain, and is 8.2 miles round trip. 

From the Glacier Gorge parking lot at N40.31052 W105.64031 at 9,100', proceed to the Loch at N40.29328 W105.65560 at 10,255'. The winter shortcut (starting at N40.30673 W105.64181 at 9,323') may be used for a faster approach - it joins the summer trail at Glacier Gorge junction at N40.29744 W105.64597 at 9,831'. The  winter shortcut follows a creek drainage that may be partially open during the spring. The shortcut is not  as frequently used in spring, when the snow changes rapidly - so be careful not to get lost by turning at N40.30187 W105.64703 at 9.587'  to follow the drainage from Glacier Gorge junction. The fastest way to the Andrews creek valley is to follow to the east  and south of the Loch, then proceed up the Andrews creek drainage. You may choose to literally follow over the creek, starting near N40.28794 W105.66434 at 10, 338'.

The base of Wham couloir, to the NE of Otis peak, may be found as you enter the valley at N40.29046 W105.66734 at 10,572'.

The couloir starts at 10,572' and tops out at N40.29427 W105.66970 at 11,835', a gain of 1,263'. The standard technical start is at N40.29212 W105.66915 at 10,971', with a gain of 864' to the top of the couloir. A small assortment of rocks on the snow along the right below the direct start, suggests some recurrent rock fall, with the debris primarily exiting to the right of couloir. From the technical starts, the couloir consists of 7 pitches (30 m rope), composed of a lesser number of snow sections often divided by a rock band or demarcated by boulders. The steepness of the sections included 35 degrees (below the technical starts), 47, 41, 40, 55, 59, and 49 degrees. In the couloir, local bulges in the snow may exceed 60 degrees. My rule of thumb is to use (at least 1) ice tool for climbs sustained over 50 degrees and to rope up (at least simulclimb with running belay) for climbs sustained over 55 degrees. We started by following the ice up the left side of the standard start, transferring to climb over the ledge at the right at the top of the pitch. The arch between 2 boulders may be girth hitched to anchor the above technical starts (the boulders are big and should protect from rocks from above). There is a piton to the climber's right below the rock band at the top of the second pitch that may be used for a belay station. We stowed our ice tools and climbed to the right of the rock band, crossing over to the left at its top. A large cam may be placed in the lower part of the crack on the right. Numerous holds may be made to the right and above the crux move at the start. There is an anchor composed of 2 nuts (well lodged into the rock) to the left above the rock band that may be used as a belay station not far above the base of the third pitch. The subsequent snow sections were straightforward, with no technical/limiting intermediate rock bands and plenty of features along the sides for cams. Lastly, we found a fixed line at the base of the final section, that may be prussiked up to a reasonably spacious resting point. The view of Wham, Zowie, and Sharkstooth is excellent there. One short pitch remains above the resting points to the top of the couloir. From the top of the couloir (at N40.29427 W105.66970 at 11,835') we proceeded west to ascend Otis peak at N40.29236 W105.68054 at 12,467' then descend to the SW to the top of Andrews glacier at N40.28733 W105.68623 at 11,966'. The ''glacier'' is low angle and may be descended (walking or glissading) to N40.28821 W105.68006 at 11,391'. A second snowfield terminates near the starting elevation of the base of the couloir. We switched back to snowshoes at N40.28899 W105.67581 at 10,986'.

At least a 30 m rope, 6 short ice screws (10 or 13 cm), 4 pickets, and an alpine rack of cams is recommended for the climb. I used 4/8 ice screws and one cam in the standard start. I used 6/7 cams and 2/4 pickets in the pitches of snow sections above rock band. Two ice tools may be advised for the leader, whereas Emily used an ice ax plus one ice tool.

We left Denver at 3:30 am to get started from the Glacier Gorge lot at 5:35 am (leaving 30-60 minutes earlier is advised). It was 29 F when we started from the lot. We reached the Loch at 7:30 and the base of the climb at 9:15 (we got lost on the Winter shortcut which added 30-60 minutes to our approach). We started the technical climbing at 10:15 am, to reach the base of the third pitch at 12:50. We topped out the couloir at 3:30, summited Otis peak at 4:50, reached the Andrews glacier at 5:30, the Loch at 7:40, and our car at 9:20 (16 hour day). It was 35F when we left the Glacier Gorge lot. We tried out the climb with little information - hopefully the description here helps to cut a few hours off of your climbing day!

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