Northeast Couloir

Page Type: Route
Lat/Lon: 39.38010°N / 106.1355°W
Route Type: Skiing
Season: Spring
Time Required: Half a day
Difficulty: Steep snow


This is a short and sweet couloir climb and ski/snowboard descent. In the winter it would be a serious undertaking, but in late spring it is a reasonable route. Fit parties could complete the trip in about 4 hours roundtrip from the Blue Lakes Dam.

Getting There

The Blue Lakes Trailhead is at 11,700' and it allows access to Wheeler Mountain's NE face, as well as Quandary's Cristo Couloir and Northstar's North Couloir.

from sisyphus's Quandary Page:

Blue Lakes Trailhead:

Go 8 miles south of the ski town of Breckenridge on CO 9. Turn west onto the 850 road (Blue Lakes road), and drive 2 miles to the trailhead. This road is easy with 2WD, although it is dirt. There is a large parking area at the dam.

This trailhead typically melts out late in the season. It is not plowed. Plan this into your travel time. There are a few homes past the standard Quandary TH, and the road is not usually plowed much past there. This road is an easy ski or snowshoe.

Route Description

NE Couloir route mapRoute Map

Roundtrip Stats (from Blue Lakes Dam):
4.5 Miles

Start from the Blue Lakes Dam, and follow the trail on the north side of Blue Lake. Make your way to the inlet of the reservoir, and follow Monte Cristo Creek west up the valley. Snowshoes or skis may be necessary, as there are alot of willows which could make for some nasty postholing. When I did this route, I waited for a solid overnight freeze, and was able to stay on top of the snow with just my AT boots, all the way to the base of the climb.

Looking up the NE CouloirLooking up from the start of the couloir

Once you reach the base of Wheeler, the couloir will be obvious. Do a snow evaluation, and if conditions are favorable, go for it! The snow steepens right away, and I had my crampons and helmet on, as well as my ice axe attached to my harness. You may want to stay more to the left side of the couloir during your ascent. Allthough it is slightly steeper, you would better avoid loose rockfall coming of Wheeler's rotten looking NE face.

Halfway upHalfway up the couloir

I measured the slope once at 48 degrees, but on average I would say its closer to 40. Good climbing technique and self arrest skills are essential. Timing is also key. I topped out of the couloir around 7:15am and the snow was perfect for climbing, two kicks with the AT boots would get me in about 4 inches. From the top of the couloir, head around the obvious difficulties to the south, then west face of Wheeler. Figuring out which point is the actual summit can be tricky, but it is the southermost of the 3 points. I went to all 3 points, which was an exciting mix of snow and class 3 rock. The exposure to the NE will have your attention.

The ridge to Northstar Looking east down the valley from near the summit of Wheeler Mountain

Carefully retrace your steps to the entrance of the chute, and prepare for the descent. This would not be a good descent route without skis, and unless you are prepared to traverse to Northstar and pick your way down Northstar to Blue Lake, or possibly head north from the summit towards Drift Peak (unknown), I would not attempt this route.

Zoom of the NE Couloir, with descent trackA look back at the descent, from Quandary's Cristo Couloir

Turns down the couloir were pretty good on the top few inches of corn. They got a little bumpy towards the end, on top of old sluff debris. This descent would be unreal in deep winter powder, but you would really have to have a perfect assessment of avalanche conditions. On spring snow, I was able to ride all the way down to the head of Blue Lake Reservoir, making for a quick trip back to the trailhead. This route probably doesnt see many visitors, give it a try!

Goat near Blue Lake

Parking lot attendant

Essential Gear

Steep snow. Bring a helmet, ice axe & crampons. Also, dont forget your brain, know the avalanche conditions before you go and plan accordingly.

External Links

7 Day Weather Forecast:

NOAA Point Forecast

Avalanche Forecast:

CAIC Vail & Summit County