June 6, 2010 - Spring Snow- Grizzly Couloir Attempt
With a successful climb of French Mountain in hand, Bob and shifted our attention to Grizzly Peak, a "former" 14'er that I knew very little of. What I did know was that the premier route on the peak is a couloir, likened to the Refrigerator Couloir on Ice Mountain but allegedly without the rock fall danger. We were both interested in a second snow climb and, after a stop in Leadville to purchase groceries for dinner, we were off to cross Independence Pass and hopefully find a spot along the Lincoln Gulch Road.
G and I tried to climb Grizzly in 2009 but getting a camp spot anywhere on the approach road in mid July on a Saturday afternoon was sheer folly. I expected as much so we turned away and climbed Oklahoma instead. I expected the same folly this time, you know . . . post Memorial Day . . . but was pleasantly surprised to get one of the spots along the Lincoln Gulch road. Of the 22 roadside spots, two were taken and we quite happily snagged a very nice one for the evening.
The next plan was to make dinner, a task that I take on with gusto. Camping dinner for me is everything that a well meaning health conscious spouse would reject out of hand . . . not just one starch but at least two if not three. The meat is beef, not chicken or the other white meat and certainly not fish or a veggie substitute. I am talking beef, as in Tri-Tip or London Broil, rubbed with garlic and salt and cooked Argentine style on the infamous "tetanus grill." Bob had not had the pleasure of a meal from the tetanus grill and I spared no effort. The London Broil was incredible, the corn was just about cooked properly and the potatoes were cooked in the coals and I give them about a C grade. I used to cook on the grill and open fire much more often and I will admit that I am slipping with regard to getting the veggies right and coordinated with the beef course. Add to this meal a brew or two and you have truly arrived.
We called it a night at a bit after 9 p.m. and set the alarm for 4 a.m. When it went off, we agreed that another 1/2 hour was definitely called for. I'd left the tent for a mid night wiz and told Bob that there was no frost and not even a shiver as I took care of #1 in bare feet. I am a total fan of the alpine start to catch the snow while it is frozen, but this was clearly one of those nights where a hard freeze just was not part of the program. We were out of the tent at a bit after 4:30 and I decided to make a hot breakfast. Not only did the tetanus grill cover dinner but the next day Bob got breakfast sausage, muesli and yogurt . . . I might as well be a guide!
We drove the remainder of the rough track that leads to the Grizzly reservoir and parked the truck at the trail head at a bit before 6 a.m. We gathered the necessary gear for a steep snow climb and for the first time in the U.S., I hitched my Teva's to the pack for stream crossings. I knew from the guide that there was at least one stream crossing to be made and I was going to be ready for it after the previous day's experience. We left the truck and headed up the wet trail that would lead us up and just about around the peak, eventually depositing us at the base of the Grizzly Couloir.
We went about 1/2 mile and as I was stepping through a cross trail snow drift, using the previous guy's post holes, I noticed that the previous guy had big round feet with claws sticking out. I stopped and realized the guy before me on the trail was a good size black bear. We stopped and looked at the tracks and these were my first bear tracks along a trail. In the past I've seen cat tracks a few times, but this was something new. We stuck with the trail and proceeded through a few meadows as the trees thinned after about a mile of trail. As we crossed a fan of avi snow where the other guy had turned off the trail and we were now on our own to punch holes through the soft snow that remained drifted over the trail here and there.
When we got to the first real change in direction. we had the opportunity to cross the creek on a snow bridge formed by a large fan of compacted avalanche snow. Given our experience crossing creeks and streams the day before, I think we wanted to get the one known crossing over with. What we should have done was figure that if the stream was covered and crossable at this point, it surely would be again, allowing a crossing using the same means later on. My not putting the pieces together led to a half mile of willow hell and the reward of beating our way through mud, bog, and the crappy snow that accumulated between and around the willows. Crossing was a bad idea, a really bad idea.
We bashed our way through the willows and snow, post holing enough to make me wonder why were continuing with this climbing endeavor. But, I had a goal . . . I figured if we could get past the willows and onto the wider expanse of snow at the next major turn in the valley, we might be OK as to some solid snow versus the rotten garbage we had encountered so far. We broke free of the willows and found that the open expanse was just as rotten and that even though we might get a 100 foot section of good snow here and there, it would always be followed by an endless series of above the knee post holes, some stopping only when the crotch prevented us from sinking any further.
We kept going and made the second major direction change before I simply had had enough. I told Bob that the snow was garbage before the sun hit and that I felt it would only get worse. We'd simply not gotten a decent freeze and the effort we had made was for naught with regard to climbing . . . but not with regard to physical conditioning and those really neat bear tracks.
We stood there, literally up to our thighs in rotten snow and called it a morning. From there it was back down to the clear trail, first sticking to avi fans where ever possible to get some solid footing and then down through the woods, all on the opposite side that we used for our approach. We did manage to score some good footing but gave up some of the energy saved when we slogged through the soft 4 to 6 feet of snow hiding in the woods before finally arriving back at the end of the trail we had left not all that long before.
The trip back to the truck on the wet trail was a quick walk and soon enough were were back down and getting out of some wet boots. We'd covered a total of 5 miles and about 1200 feet, not really much to talk about but for how much of that distance was spent thrashing through willows and post holing through feet of rotten snow. We ended up having a 4 hour physical training exercise so all was not for naught. We scored the bear tracks, got a look at a route that we will have to come back for and were reminded, once again, that those high mountain valleys hold their snow and can make one's morning a miserable affair to remember.