You might be the first to go UP this Couloir. It seems that this South Couloir is popular if folks need to exit Borah to the East. Bob Boyles and Frank Florence used it when they climbed the East Face to North East Ridge route. Wes used it when he climbed the Dirty Traverse and East Face Direct. Dean Lords preferred to climb Chicken Out Ridge, then drop down this couloir to access the North Side of Sacajaewa. Even though he made it back there a bunch of times, the only route to show for all that effort was Broken Wings. Option #3 was a great view and a better way down. But #4 was a good laugh.
My sense is that the couloir is a rotten but reasonably safe way down when the snow is gone, but a boring rubble fest of a way up in the absence of snow. The trouble is that when snow is present, objective dangers abound. Our timing was almost perfect, one of the last cold days of the spring, cornice mostly gone, but the top still turned to mush before we got off the top, and the lower half slid the next day.
Our intended descent was option #3, and had the decision been mine alone, I would be happily ignorant of option #5 .
For what it's worth, option #5 might be a pretty good option late in the year when the snow is gone.
All that said, the east side of that range may be my favorite part of the world.
Cheers, and thanks for the note.
Congrats but the Grade IV is overrated IMO. This would be the first recorded IV in the range. For example, the North Ridge of the Grand is a IV. The NF of Breitenbach III, NF of Sac III, East Face of Idaho III, EF of Borah III, and so on. I love the TR.
Hi Bob, I agree on every point.
At the same time, this isn’t my first rodeo. I have a pretty good idea of a IV. And, I am not tying to pump up my creds. Like I said in the route description, probably only a three, especially if you descend the W. Ridge. Snap, if you go down the west ridge and skip the summit and it may only be a II.
Also, for people such as yourself with plenty of experience in the range, absolutely, barely a three. For others though, especially beginners, or people new to the range, a little context helps.
These days, the N. Ridge of the Grand is like a long day at the gym. It is technically harder but it is bereft of objective danger. Beginning with the last couple pitches to the summit, the rest is little more than following a well-worn path with proven rappel points, and (too often) plenty of company for support. On several occasions I haven’t even had to use my own ropes on the rappels.
In the case of this gully, it softened up in the afternoon, nixing it as an option for a same-day way down. The alternative was nearly five hours on the maze of loose snow, scree, and water covered sloping ledges to the south. There isn’t a hard move in the bunch but, given the paucity of anchors, the need for caution is extreme. The correct route is far from obvious. The potential for disaster is genuine. The possibility for rescue is nil.
More to the point, even though this route is technically far easier, it took longer to complete and was objectively far more dangerous than the North Ridge of the Grand. Experienced people who find it in supreme condition will find it to be a III, but if conditions deteriorate, regardless of skill level, and they intend to descend to the east, they need to be mentally and physically prepared for a IV.
Finally, calling it a III on the off chance that someone will sucker-in and bite off more than they can chew doesn't seem right.
Footnote: I would have thought the East Face deserved a IV. Good work on that.
What happened to your images? Some have disappeared.
I hear you on the conditional stuff. CO Ridge is pretty predictable in the late season but other routes with snow or ice are different every time I'm there. I've seen the NF with 10 pitches of solid alpine ice and at other times it's just a snow climb.
I appreciate your point on length, objective danger and lack of pro too. The EF/NE Ridge took us 18 hrs to get up and down and we didn't slack a bit. The same goes for Sac and the East Face. Both took all day and part of a night to get up and down. We had an unplanned biv on Breitenbach due to underestimating the length.
I sure wouldn't go in that range thinking SAR is going to haul your butt out of there if something bad happens. There are places where both sat and cell phones don't work well and even if they do it's probably going to take a long time to get help. There's no Park Service helicopter sitting down in Arco waiting for a call.
Thanks for the perspective. It's a pleasure to read someone else's opinion and rating of the area. If someone repeats the EF and thinks we're way off base I'll change the grade.
Frank and I descended just to the south of the gully and it was like a bowling alley. We knocked stuff off most of the way down.