It's hard to imagine a red-blooded mountaineer who can look upon the amazing Nokhu Crags and not want to climb them. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine a sober mountaineer who, having seen them up close, would wish to climb them again! The rock is fantastically loose and fragile. Gerry Roach notes in his RMNP mountaineering guide, that these peaks are best climbed in the dead of winter when ice cements the rocks together to some degree. It's a wonder that the mountain is still standing at all!
The Northeast Cirque of Nokhu.
If you must
climb the Nokhu Crags, the twin couloir of Grand Central and Nokhuloir are probably the easiest way to do it. The two couloirs are each about 500 feet tall and climb from the tiny Northeast Cirque to either side of the summit. Nokhuloir reaches an angle of 45-50 degrees and terminates just south of the south summit. Grand Central Couloir is also around 45 degrees but steepens to 55-60 degrees in the last hundred feet. Grand Central tops out in the small saddle between the north and south peaks. Access to either peak from this position is a dicey proposition at best.
Fortunately, the horrors of loose rock and loose snow are more than made up for by the simply breathtaking scenery. The Northeast Cirque is one of the most incredible places I've ever been. The jagged, knife-edge ridge separating the cirque from the larger American Lakes basin to the south is equally impressive from the climb.
Nokhu is most easily approached from the Michigan Ditch which contours from Lake Agnes five miles to Cameron Pass. The approach is either 3.2 miles from the large Cameron Pass parking area or 1.8 miles from the Lake Agnes summer trailhead. Your goal is the valley between the Nokhu's north and northeast ridges.
If you approach from Cameron Pass, you'll have a great preview of the Northeast Cirque for much of the way. The obvious peak is the north peak and the prominent couloir is the Nokhuloir. Grand Central cannot be seen until you are litterally standing at the base of it.
Hike the ditch to a point between the north and north-east ridges of Nokhu. Leave the ditch and bushwhack through half a mile of open forest aimed directly for Nokhu's north peak. Break into the open below a series of moraines. Overcome these as you see fit and enter the Nokhu's incredible inner sanctum.
Nokhuloir (left) and Grand Central (right) bracket Nokhu's southern summit.
Round the shoulder of the north peak into the bowl of the cirque. From here, you can finally see Grand Central. It and Nokhuloir share a common beginning but diverge about a quarter of the way up. Half-way up, it is possible to cross a low ridge between routes. You're not committed yet!
Past the half-way point, both routes become steeper and narrower. I have not personally climbed Nokhuloir, so the remainder of the route description will focus on Grand Central. The climb is straight-forward and obvious. The top 100 feet of the climb steepens dramatically to what I estimate at 60 degrees.
The top is a small, level space wedged between the crags guarding access to the north and south summits. Due to rapidly-worsening snow conditions, we didn't attempt either summit. Roach describes the scramble to the south summit (climber's left) as 4th class and the north summit as "unfeasible". The scramble from the top of Nokhuloir to the south summit is, supposedly, 3rd class.
North Summit from the top of Grand Central. South Summit from the top of Grand Central.
Standard snow-climbing gear is sufficient for the couloirs. In hard-conditions, you may wish to bring along rope and pickets for the steeper sections. A rope may come in handy if you decide to chance the semi-technical terrain to the summits.
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