& South Arapaho Peaks, 13,502 and 13,397 ft
(with Princess Leah Finish) & South Ridge, class 4 , ~8.5
miles, 3500 ft, May 2006
(Jared and Dave Pneuman)
last summer I realized that not only was I not bothered by steep snow
but that I actually quite enjoy it. Nothing gets you to the
of a peak faster than a nice, solid, snow filled couloir. I look at
them like alpine escalators. Since this season (2006) seems to be
bringing snow routes into shape rather early I have been knocking off
climbs whenever the time and a partner presents. I've wanted
do the Princess Leah finish on South Arapaho's Skywalker Couloir for
quite awhile but it tends to come into shape only briefly and I had
missed the route last year. I'd been nagging Dave
to hit some snow with me for awhile but he really seems not to like
snow routes. He isn't afraid of snow (he kept his
crane position until around 55 degrees whereas I start in the self
arrest position at about 10 degrees) but rather simply prefers rock
routes. Fortunately for me he decided that he would give it a
shot to see if he liked snow more than he remembered.
were pretty excited about the climb and, due to beta from Kevin Craig
and a friend of mine who lives in Nederland stating that the road
approach was snow free decided to head up to the 4th of July Trailhead.
I had been training for this climb with a rigorous blend
of drinking, fishing on the Gulf of Mexico, and getting four
less hours of sleep a night for a week during a trip to Florida from
which I returned the day before the climb. DISCLAIMER: This training
regime is not recommended and results in severe patience requirements
on the part of the athletes partner.
Dave drove to my house around 4:30 AM, May 25th, 2006.
headed up to the trailhead and arrived somewhere near six in the
morning. We decided to forgo any rope or pro but I did bring
along a set of ice tools with the thought that we could each use a tool
and an axe in the steep parts. The trail up to the base of
climb was mostly melted out with intermittent patches of snow.
flotation was brought and none would have been helpful.
arrived at the base of the climb somewhere around 6:45 or 7:00 and put
on our crampons. I was quite surprised how short the climb
appeared to be. Basically you go up a rather shallow angled broad snow
field (20-40 degrees) before it eases up and then enters a brief
constriction (20 feet wide = not that constricted). Above the
constriction the climb broadens and steepens and you have several
options as to how to top out.
Looking up the Climb In
We headed up and made
progress. I've learned that rest steps are an important part
going up couloirs. Basically you want to go a set number of
and pause and rest before continuing, full out climbing gets tiring.
Behind us was a solo skier (a guy named Andy) and a separate
party of two. The skier was hauling and only a crampon mishap prevented
him from smoking us. We made decent time up to and through
constriction. I can't recall what the angle of the slope was
it seemed to be well less than 45 degress.
Looking Down after the
the constriction the slope became steeper but still seemed quite
gentle. I'd take my measurements and musings with a grain of
though, generally people overestimate slope steepness, on this climb I
didn't notice it at all so am probably underestimating it.
the constriction the skier passed us and began climbing up towards
steeper terrain. Both Dave and the skier stayed towards the
while I, nervous about rock, snow, or ice falling from above stayed to
the left. Below is a picture of the skier about 50 feet or so before
the steep part. Right before the steepest part I noticed
rocks starting to flutter down towards us. Being a good
yelled 'Rock, Rock, Rock!' after the rocks took off and flew
I realized my sunglasses are not prescription and amended my warning to
'oops, bird, bird.' We had no rockfall on this trip :)
A Solo Skier Climbing
Into The Steep Part
Right before it became
pulled my tools out and we each took one. I can not recommend
this strongly enough for unroped, steep snow travel. With an axe and a
tool you are never disconnected from the slope. I would
the axe, pull the tool out, sink it in a foot or two higher, kick,
kick, and repeat. I've never felt so comfortable on snow in
life. Up until the steep portion the snow was firm and an axe
could be sunk a few inches but for the most part you were cramponing up
perfect snow on your tips. The snow was solid enough that the
duckwalk sufficed even on 45+ degree snow. We also took our time
getting to the stepper portion so we could kick decent steps
it. The picture below shows me before the snow reached the
seriously steep part. You can see the slope ramping up.
Jared, Right Before
Things Really Get Steep
Leah was in great shape
on the left
but Dave and the skier reported some deeper power and flaking ice on
the right. I had inadvertently stayed left in what turned out
be the steepest part with the best snow and quickly passed both guys at
this point as my route had bomber snow in it. I was really
enjoying myself and thought 'Wow,
this climb is overrated, it isn't even that steep.' That is
I looked over at Dave and noticed he was standing almost parallel to
the slope, I then looked down between my legs and realized that it was,
in fact, REALLY steep. I wish I had a camera to take a shot but
unfortunately did not. I wouldn't recommend this climb until someone
sees how they like snow because I could see it sketching
out. After my mistake of noticing the angle of the slope (~
degrees) I decided to go back to concentrating on the snow in front of
After a short time I popped out (the cornice is small and easily
avoided, it is in fact, a non-issue). The two pictures below
the group of two coming up past the constriction and then one of them
utilizing our stairs into the steep part.
Looking Down From The Top
Another Climber Utilizing
Our Freshly Installed Steps
While the guidebooks
variation on Skywalker it seems that Princess Leah is the natural line.
It would be a shame to climb another one unless safety
necessitated it. Bring a second tool and go for it.
picture above is taken directly overhead of the climber, if you note
his body postion and the pull of gravity on the tailings on his bag the
steepness of the slope becomes more apparent.
Dave, Right Before The
Traverse To North Arapaho
Skywalker drops you off a couple hundred vertical from the ridge
connecting the Arapahos. Dave and I congratulated each other
wished the skier luck before heading off. We gained the ridge
immediately set off for North Arapaho. It was here I starting
feeling poorly, my aforementioned training regime was not working.
I figured I'd go on anyway and eat at the peak.
The ridge itself is
pretty straightforward if you are comfortable with
3rd and 4th class scrambling. A great description of it can
in Dave Cooper's excellent Colorado
(A 5 star book in my
opinion). In my opinion the exposure is negligible and the
fantastic. There were two sections I'd put at 4th or very low
class. The first is a scramble up a slab about a third of the
across the traverse. This is 4th class if you are taller and
if shorter. In plastic boots it felt like 5.0 to me.
As a total aside
I don't believe there is any real difference between 4th class and 5.0,
it really depends on so many factors that it is quite difficult to
separate the two. After this crux the ridge was pretty easy
but had enough slabby sections with water and snow that care was
necessary. The final crux came right before the final push to
the summit of
North Arapaho and required climbing up a short (15 -20 feet) but steep
section of snow to a corner/chimney which we pulled over.
class 4 or 5.0. From here it was a short scramble up a rock
and dirt gully to the summit.
The views were
incredible and we both
took a break to eat and relax. I think we topped out around
but this might be wrong. There were very few signatures in
register but I believe a couple 14erworld members and a soloist in
April had been up. Unfortunately my condition was going
I can't believe the difference a week at sea level with no
makes but I was gasping for air up there. I'd been up a
route a few days before Florida with Jen and hadn't sucked wind
anywhere near to that bad. My muscles were fine but my heart
lungs were racing. Dave was very calm with the frequent
had to take to catch my breath which made the trip back bearable.
We girth hitched three 48" runners together to provide an
down the chimney crux but otherwise freed the rest of the ridge.
Along the way I had taken my helmet off and proceeded to bash
head into a rock which added a nice headache to my breathing issues.
Dave showed me a decent breathing technique which helped get
back over to South Arapaho and to the descent.
Looking Back Towards
Once past South Arapaho
the trail and angled in the general direction of the car.
become increasingly more comfortable with using a topo and intuition to
guide me back to starting points. This method is more
and scenic. We had spotted the route on the approach so as to
avoid cliffs on the descent. When we came to a huge snowfield
followed a ridge next to it down to a gully, scrambled down the gully,
plunge stepped down several hundred feet of soft snow, and scrambled
back to the trail right where it meets the second waterfall.
Losing elevation did me a world of good and I was soon happy
breathing well. We made quick time back to the car and headed
home. Hopefully Dave and I will hook up for the Super Star
Couloir on James Peak in two weeks. Other than that I expect
hit Dreamweaver and the Bell Cord this month.
This was a fun climb and I'd recommend it to anyone who is
comfortable with steep snow. I'd also suggest people get a
on as high temperatures may melt this route out soon.
COULOIR TAKE 2
(with Princess Leah Finish) - South Arapaho Only, ~6
miles, 3250 ft, May 2007
(Jared and Brian Hynek)
I've decided that certain climbs are worth doing over and
again and Skywalker Couloir on South Arapaho certainly fits the bill.
Furthermore it is close and can be done from door to door in
seven hours of my house. Given that I am also pushing to get
into shape for either The Grand Teton or Mt. Rainier it seemed like a
good way to start a random Thursday morning off. I'd been up
the area just a few days before to climb Mt.
and had noticed that Skywalker looked to be in perfect shape.
This trip report illuminates how quickly things in the high
country can change.
Brian and I met in Nederland at 5:00 A.M. on Thursday, May 31st, 2007.
We work well and quickly together and planned to climb
then be back at work by 11:00. We arrived at the trailhead by
5:30 and set out by 5:40. We made quick time and soon found
ourselves at the base of the couloir. We quickly donned our
crampons and pulled out our axes. We also each had an ice
for the upper parts. The bottom of the couloir was bullet proof neve
and we made good time moving up it. The whole time we were
up it it was clear that the wind was blowing pretty hard up top.
This should have been a clue but the snow fall in the last
days was so minor as to be forgettable.
As we moved up the couloir we came upon sections of soft powder over
the hard neve. By the time we had climbed into the
the powder was much more prevalent. By the time we were
the steep stuff it was ubiquitous. At the steep point we
out our ice tools. They were really the only thing giving us
purchase as the mountaineering axes were not biting. We found
ourselves wallowing up through steep snow which consisted of a wind
loaded powdery layer over a hard layer. We made sure to kick
deep and swing our tools with each step. By the time we
the beginning of the crux it was clear that this couloir was likely to
avalanche in the next couple days. There was simply to much
loaded powder on top of hard neve. We weren't exactly worried
would happen while we were on it since the sun hadn't hit it yet but
still moved with extreme haste. The last part was maybe 60
degrees or so and we skipped the steeper stuff a few feet to the left.
We had to swing out axes and tools deep down into the powder
connect with the surface below and made sure to kick our points deep as
well. By the time we reached the top we agreed that a some
warming would make the wind loaded snow wet enough to slide.
was happy to be off.
This trip was in stark contrast to my last easy jaunt up Skywalker.
All it took was a couple inches of snow to wind load the
from 6 to 24 inches. I'll bear this in mind in the future.
Fortunately our practice of being off stuff before sun hit
enough to keep us safe. We quickly headed over to the summit of South
Arapaho then followed the ridge line down until we could drop into the
trees a couple hundred yards from the car. I much prefer
traversing along the ridge and getting all of the views to taking the
awful switchbacks down to the trail and with all the snow up high it
made for a knee saving trek.
We arrived back at the car just 4 hours and 40 minutes after leaving
and headed to work. I think I'll climb this one yearly.
is steep, long, and close to home. It is such a classic that
there is no good reason not to get on it frequently.
(with Princess Leah Finish) - South Arapaho Only, ~6
miles, 3250 ft, June 2008
(Jared, Jen, Brian Hynek, & Lisa Mayhew)
Skywalker is a couloir I try to climb once a year. As far
as snow climbs go it is my favorite in the state. My friend Brian
and his girlfriend Lisa were planning a trip to the Cascades in a few
days and Brian wanted to see where Lisa's comfort level was so we
decided that we should do a couple's climb of Skywalker. Jen had been
bugging me to do Dead Dog on Torreys but I try to avoid the tourist
routes on 14ers like the plague these days so I figured an even better
snow climb was in order. As it turns out Skywalker is now a
tourist route as well, there were 20+ people on it the day we did it.
We met Brian at his house at 4 AM on Sunday, June 15th, 2008 and picked
he and Lisa up. We then headed up to the 4th of July trailhead
and started hiking by 5:00. The approach is one of the best parts
of the climb and we made it to the base of the couloir by 6:15 at a
very leisurely pace. For the first time I have seen it there was
actually a lower left branch of snow which added a couple hundred
vertical feet to the whole climb. The snow was very hard and as
it was Lisa's first climb we decided to take our time before getting
going to let the snow soften up some. As it turned out Brian had
told Lisa the climb was a moderate snow climb to get her interested.
Funny, I never thought something that reached 55 degrees
consistently and could hit 70 degrees was moderate :).
While a single ice axe is sufficient to comfortably climb Skywalker I
tend to be one of those types of people that feels a bit of extra
weight is well worth it if the gear takes you from comfortable to 100
percent confident and safe so we all brought a set of ice tools to
climb with. I also put Jen and Lisa in diaper slings and brought
along a snow picket and a couple lockers and Brian brought a rope in
case either of the girls wanted a belay.
We started up the Couloir around 7:00 in the morning and Brian and I
coached our significant others on how to use tools to climb snow.
We made slow but steady progress up the couloir making sure to
take our time so that the women were comfortable. The snow in the
couloir was in the best condition I have ever encountered. It was
solid cramponing snow the entire way up to the Leah finish. At no
point could you kick a step in until the end but the firmness of the
snow coupled with a set of ice tools made it one of the most solid snow
climbs I've ever done.
About 2/3rds of the way up the couloir we were passed by a party of six
which include Gary Neptune. Prior to this group their had only
been one guy in front of us who looked like he was having a minor epic
near the top of the couloir (kicking five or so times before moving up
a foot). After the party passed us I noticed Jen was antsy to
keep moving and I was getting a bit nervous about her being on the
steeper stuff longer than she needed to so I checked with Brian and
Lisa to see if I should give them the picket (they said no) and then
The snow was still very firm as we approached the upper part of the
couloir and steepened to 50 or so degrees. Once we entered the
Princess Leah finish though it was considerably softer (although still
good) and we followed a boot track left by the party that had
passed us. We had to place our tools out to the sides to get good
sticks and I stayed very close to Jen (husbandly nervousness, I figured
I could arrest her fall if she slipped) as we made our way up the 55-60
degree finish. Usually the snow is much steeper in this section
but the conditions were so good I didn't mind a shallower exit.
Once on top we waited for Brian and Lisa to come up and chatted with
the group of climbers some. When Brian and Lisa topped out she
got a round of applause from the people because we mentioned it was her
first snow climb. Lisa did very well on her first climb and was
completely comfortable once she figured out how to use the tools early
on. Neither Jen or Lisa ever felt like using a rope and I was
proud of how comfortable Jen was during the whole trip. Down below us
were at least ten more climbers coming up so we headed up to the summit
of South Arapaho, hung out for a spell, then headed down. AS
usual Brian and I took our own improvised route down to the car.
It took a bit of convincing the women to follow since they
thought we were taking them on a bushwhack but when we got back to the
car before a group that left the summit 15 minutes earlier than we did
we felt vindicated in our route finding choices.
After the climb we headed back To Brian's house for a bratwurst, rib
eye, corn, and bean lunch and a brief foray into his hot tub before
It was another fantastic bluebird day in the high country but I'm
amazed how many people climb Skywalker these days. The Internet
really is crowding out the climbing world these days compared to just a
few years ago. I'm also happy to have successfully gotten up
something since Jen, Brian, and Myself failed on an attempt on the
North Couloir on Pacific due to 5 foot visibility just a few days
before this trip.
Approaching the Climb
Jen Starting Out
Jen, Higher Up
Jen, Jared, & Lisa
Lisa in 4WD
Crowded day, at least 20 people on Skywalker this day
Nearing the top, not so steep this time
Lisa, topping out
On the summit, Brian, Lisa, Jared, and Jen
Jared coming down
Lisa and Jen
Lisa and Jen
More Lisa and Jen
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