Intro/StatsPikes Peak (14115')
Via Y Couloir ("middle branch")
19 miles RT, 7700' gain
Participants: Sarah Thompson, Sue Personett, Dave "Hoot" Gibson, & Kevin Baker
May 2, 2009
4:33 slideshow with music
I was pumped for a 4th trip up the Y Couloir on the north face of Pikes, but the weather this spring has not been cooperating. Earlier in the spring, it was looking like the snow would be sparse on the north face, but a couple dumps in April and we were set! The forecast was looking decent early in the week, so we booked reservations at Barr Camp. Friday evening at Barr Camp the forecast said 70% chance of snow with 1-2 inches and light winds. Not exactly an ideal forecast for a couloir climb. A look at the Pikes Peak cam on Friday morning gave me hope though as the summit was above the clouds. Maybe this would be an inversion event where the clouds and precip stay below us!
Drudgery to Barr
Hoot and Sue headed up to Barr Camp earlier in the afternoon while Sarah and I didn't leave until 6:15pm. My expectations were very low for a successful climb of the Y, but at least Rumdoodle Ridge would be a nice consolation prize and a new route.
We headed up in the muck as a light drizzle was falling, enough to overheat yourself in a hard shell with a 30 pound pack on. I was glad to have Sarah along as this would have been a dreary, solo hike with no views. We were excited to see the moon and stars pop out as we climbed out of the clouds just before arriving at Barr Camp. Maybe we can still pull this off!
All but the last mile to Barr Camp went quick and we arrived a bit after 9. A group of 6 hikers were also at Barr planning on an ascent up the standard east face Barr Trail route. We visited with the hikers along with Neil and Teresa for awhile before hitting the sack. Hoot and I shared a lean-to site while the rest stayed in the cabin.
The Y is not a very popular spring snow climb because of the approach. Early in the spring, the Pikes Peak Highway does not open until 9am. Unless you have a cloudy, cold day, you run the risk of getting to the top of the couloir too late for a safe ascent. The other alternatives are a 6 mile slog from Barr Camp just to get to the base or a cold bivy in the Bottomless Pit.
After a restless short night of sleep, we set out at 4:45am. It probably was no colder than the upper 20's as I got by most of the day with thin gloves. We made good time to the Bottomless Pit trail and began the sidehilling sloeshoe fest over to the Bottomless Pit. This is usually a miserable postholing affair, but the snow was pretty firm and we weren't punching through much. This was a good sign for things to come.
The cloud deck was still well below our position high on the mountain, but it was overcast enough not to see the spectacular sunrise we were used to seeing on this climb. Hoot did a great job following the trail, as there were some blazes marked on the trees to assist us.
Sue on a brief sidehilling section:
This year, we were able to avoid a lot of annoying sidehilling by dropping about 100 feet into the French Creek drainage below Bottomless Pit. This saved a good deal of time and effort. From there, it was a mellow ascent on firm snow up to the Bottomless Pit. This is where all of the effort pays off as you enter the seldom visited rugged north side of Pikes.
It looked like the weather was going to hold as we rounded the corner and saw our goal for the day.
The Railroad (left) and Y Couloirs from the Bottemless Pit:
Sue dwarfed by the Bottomless Pit:
Y Couloir: Edition 4
We were glad to find continuous, firm snow all the way up the apron of the Y.
Hoot approaching the base of the Railroad and Y Couloirs:
We donned crampons, axes, and beacons at the split for the Railroad and Y. I was chomping at the bit to take advantage of the best conditions Hoot and I have seen in our 4 climbs up here.
The base of the Y Couloir:
The views from this lofty perch are amazing.
The lower portion was perfect for cramponing as we zigged our way up.
It didn't take long to feel the altitude as the couloir steepened, but it doesn't exceed 40 degrees until you get close to the split. We switched off trail breaking duties and Hoot took over just below the split.
At the split, we went up a short 47 degree section that was perfect for kicking steps. Hoot then traversed right, looking to find the entrance to the elusive far right branch.
Entrance to the right branch is below the huge icicle:
He zigged his way above an icy rock band before coming to a show stopper, an icy section of rock that could not be avoided. Hoot yelled down to us that it was too spicy with just an ice axe, so I led us up the familiar "middle" branch while Hoot reversed his tracks and caught up to us.
I was beginning to hit the wall, so Sarah saved the day and busted out some bunny Peeps. Fueled by a sugar rush, we set our sites on the finish, which was tougher than the prior 2 times I have done this branch.
Sarah nears the top:
The top of this branch did not hold continuous snow the other times. This time we had to kick steps a bit more as there was some firm neve to deal with. We were all really moving slow near the top, but persistence paid off. The top was an enjoyable, steep finish with snow that was perfect for kicking steps.
Sue tops out on the Y:
We topped out to an empty parking lot at 11:45am. There was more snow on the summit than I have even seen. The true summit was barely poking out of drifts.
We headed into the empty summit house and had to wait a bit for the employees to open it as the first train had already left. The road was not open to tourists, so it felt weird having the place to ourselves! The group of 6 hikers we met at Barr Camp topped out on Barr Trail just after we arrived. The next train would not depart until 3:20, so Sarah and I decided to hike down all the way instead of catching a train ride halfway down.
The Jarring Descent
This was probably my most enjoyable descent of Barr Trail. We followed tracks off the summit leaving at 1:30, then traversed right into the prominent low angle gully on the east face that was totally filled in. This was perfect for a long 500 foot glissade in a matter of minutes. We then plunge stepped our way down to the A-Frame, making it down to treeline in less than an hour. This avoids all of the endless switchbacks on the face. Wish you could do that in the summer!
The long glissade down the east face:
We put our snowshoes on just above A-Frame as the snow was softening up and left them on until hitting the Bottomless Pit junction. The snow was nice for taking pressure off the knees down the endless switchbacks. Barr Camp was basking in sun as we arrived and we packed up our sleeping gear. The descent down to Manitou was weird as the temp probably dropped ten degrees as we entered the world of gloominess again as it drizzled on us below about 9500 ft. Not too many folks were out. The drizzle was light enough to avoid putting on the shell and we kept a good pace down to the trailhead, arriving at 5:45. I must say that was my most rewarding climb of the Y yet given that our hopes of climbing it when we started out were minimal. What a day!