Overview and Getting There
North Klondike Couloir
is my own name for this snow climb up to Medicine Bow Peak’s summit ridge. There are two couloirs that run into the Klondike Lakes. North Klondike Couloir holds its snow longer and more consistently than its southern counterpart does. It is fully visible from the parking area at Lewis Lake. This route has a short approach and easy access and is in a very popular area, but it sees very few climbers relative to all the hikers and fishers who visit.
About 8 miles south of Saratoga, WY 130 intersects WY 230, which goes south. Drive WY 130 to the turnoff for the Sugarloaf Recreation Area, which is 29 miles east of the WY 230 intersection. The other end of WY 130 is in Laramie, and those approaching from Laramie will find the Sugarloaf turnoff 12 miles west of Centennial. Drive one mile to the end of the road at Lewis Lake, which sits at about 10,700’. There is a fee of $5 per vehicle. The main road may not open until June, and snow may block the road to Lewis Lake into late July or even August.
Route DescriptionThe full loop from Lewis Lake entails about 3.5 miles and 1300’ of elevation gain. The highest of the Klondike Lakes is at 10,800’, so depending upon snow conditions, the snow climb can be up to 800 vertical feet.
When I climbed in mid-July of 2007, it was up about 600 vertical feet of snow.
Start hiking the popular trail to Medicine Bow Peak, keeping an eye on the couloir. Once you are approximately level with the base of the snow, leave the trail and start contouring over to the route. You will be above and west of the Klondike Lakes. Since this is a fragile alpine area, make a serious effort to stay on the rock and not on the tundra as much as possible. The approach should take 15-30 minutes in all.
Although some parts of the climb are moderate, good stretches are steep. Expect icy spots as well. There may be a cornice at the top, but it is bypassed by exiting right onto Class 3 rock when just beneath it. There will likely be one last short but very steep snowbank to climb unless you go well out of your way to avoid it.
Once you are in the couloir proper, which is quite narrow, you are committed to climbing it or going back down. After you enter the upper section, where things open up more, you can choose to exit right if you dislike the snow conditions the rest of the way. Depending on the exact spot you exit, you will be moving onto rock that is anywhere from Class 3 to low Class 5.
When you finish, you can hike 20-30 minutes across the ridgetop to the summit of Medicine Bow Peak and then take the trail back to the parking area (you may find yourself on the receiving end of interested and respectful glances, comments, and questions from hikers atop the peak), or you can hike a few yards north and descend a Class 2 scree slope back to the base of the couloir. You could also try a glissade back down, but the couloir was too long and steep for me to try that at my experience level.
Caveat: I climbed this in July and found conditions very suitable. I cannot speak for conditions at other times of the year, especially during avalanche-prone months.
Ice axe and crampons.
I did not have crampons and found myself unable to tackle the very last part because of that. Instead, I had to exit onto Class 3 rock to climb the 50 feet or so to get level with the cornices. Elsewhere, kicking into the snow was usually sufficient, but I had to make more use of my ice axe, including to prevent falls a few times, than I would have had I brought crampons along.
On a colder day or earlier in the season, doing this climb without crampons might be crazy.