My first international
trip is just a
few weeks away and I am in full on training mode. I'm not
how my body will react at altitude but I am doing my best to make sure
I am mentally and physically prepared for it. If I miss out
reaching 21,000 feet in Peru I want to be sure that I at least gave the
preparation my all.
Super Star Couloir, located on James Peak in the Indian Peaks
Wilderness is one of the routes that caught my eye last year and I
figured the mix of steep snow and technical rock would be perfect for
my now once per week technical route (another Sawatch Slog is likely to
follow this weekend due to poor weather and too much snow in the Elk
Range). Fortunately I had a good partner, Dave Pneuman, lined
for the route. Dave and I have been knocking out Indian Peak
Classic routes left and right this year and I really owe him some long
rock climbs to make up for putting him through couloir after couloir.
Dave met me at my house at 4:00 AM, Wednesday morning, June the 7th,
2006 and we headed for Rollinsville and the upper Mammoth Gulch
Trailhead. Being the over cautious climber that I am I brought along
two ice tools, a full set of Alien cams, 8 shoulder length runners, a
35 meter rope, and an ice axe. Dave brought along a set of nuts and
tri-cams to round out the rack. While this may seem like
for a short 5.4 pitch it turned out to serve us well (since we never
got to the 5.4 part).
Starting The Day, Super
Star Is The Right Leaning Couloir
We found ourselves
blocked by snow
drifts at 11,000 feet so we parked the truck next to the road and
headed for James Peak from there. The snow on the way was
disheartening as it had obviously not frozen the night before and we
found ourselves postholing quite a bit as we made our way down into the
basin below James Peak.
Super Star To The Right, Shooting Star To The Left
The First Snowfields And The Lake
Crossing The Snow Around The Lake
The approach to the peak
crossing a ridge below Kingston Peak, descending a well marked trail
towards the lake below James and then contouring around the left side
of the lake before gaining the snowfield which ends at the base of the
major snowfield leading to Shooting Star and Super Star Couloir.
The Route Goes Up The Snow And Turns Into The Right Couloir
We started out on the
snow leading to
Super Star relatively late and were unsure whether or not we would be
successful in our summit bid. We figured we would give it a
and evaluate conditions as we progressed. The snow was quite
and no crampons were required although we wore them. The snow
slushy enough that much of the climb consisted of kicking in up to the
ankles. This was quite tiring and I was happy when I found
occasional runnel that was solid enough to only require a few inches of
kicking in the snow for stability. The snow seemed to gain in
strength as we approached the junction between Shooting Star and Super
Star so we decided to turn right and go for it.
At The Junction Of Shooting Star And Super Star
Heading Up Super Star
Once in Super Star, the
increased from 40ish to 50ish degrees maybe reaching 60 degrees for
very brief sections but averaging 50-55 degrees consistently.
Unfortunately for us the snow became very slushy again and it was a
blessing that we were each climbing with an axe and a tool as
greatly helped balance.
At the top of Super Star the cornice appeared to have a slight opening
on the left but we both agreed that the snow conditions were too poor
to try to pull through it and we opted to traverse up and to the right
towards a rock wall. The traverse required we cross several
runnels on bad snow and the worsening conditions prompted us to move
with a decent bit of haste. It was obvious from below that
easiest rock was farther to the right around the wall.
As we approached the base of the rock we were forced to contour around
mini crevasses and at one point climb over a steep and wet melted out
section of 4th class rock in crampons. Past this rock we
made it to the base of the wall only to discover a huge gap between the
snow and the rock. Given the uncertain depth of this opening
the poor snow coupled with cliffs below we decided that traversing this
mini bergschrund might not be the smartest idea. If it gave
could find ourselves in a deep pit or sliding down slushy snow towards
Rather than tempt fate we headed right up to the wall in front of us.
Having had so much fun the prior week on Dream Weaver I
to head straight up some 5.0/5.2 rock in crampons to a decent ledge.
Since I haven't had the opportunity to thoroughly diminish
IQ he opted for a rope at this point. Once we were both on the ledge I
set up a very solid anchor and Dave and I tied in together and switched
into rock shoes. It was during this portion of the trip that
was reminded that over packing rock pro is a good thing.
Pulling a Low 5th Class Move In Crampons
From our belay point I scouted about for a good route up
rock. I noticed an obvious thin crack above us which looked
5.7/5.8 but I had no pro small enough to fit it and didn't want run it
out over a ledge that looked like it would be painful to deck on so I
headed up a face to the right. After starting the face I
contoured into an arm/fist sized
crack which, due to the pack, required more face climbing.
have to say the climb irritated me because I found myself with run outs
of 20 and 40 feet. At one point I followed a line which lead
to an old rusty piton. Seeing as how there was no pro between
and a tricky move before the piton I down climbed and skirted to the
right. Just as I was nearing 40 feet of runout and a move
slot I luckily found a great placement for a red tri-cam followed by a
placement for a red Alien. This was all the confidence I
to pull through the slot and scramble up onto 4th class slabs
belay point. I'd say the climbing was overall 5.5 and 5.6
move or two of possibly 5.7.
The belay point offered minimal options so I slung a cordellete over a
block that looked decent enough and then set a separate anchor using
two side by side Aliens.
At The Belay
The View From The Belay
The view from the belay
and I enjoyed it for a moment before calling down to Dave that I was
ready for him to come up.
Dave headed up the 90 foot pitch, cleaned it, and pulled
the slot. Once through the pitch Dave anchored in at which
I left and
scrambled 20 feet up 4th class rock and found myself on the grassy
ridge leading to the summit. I belayed Dave up to the ridge and we
The Route We Took And The Easier Way We Skipped
On the ridge we stopped
bite to eat, put our gear away and switched back into boots.
stopped by the cornice and noted it was quite slushy with impossible to
protect rock on either side. I'd recommend not trying to pull
and am certainly glad we didn't.. While the rock on either
looks doable it is quite loose and a fall onto such high angled snow
would be difficult to arrest.
On The Ridge, Just Past The Cornice
Another Shot Of Our Rock Pitch
We walked up the ridge
to the summit
making sure to take as many pictures as we could along the way.
was amazed at how steep Super Star looked and am not sure I would have
been so keen on climbing it had I seen it from these vantages earlier
on. Oh well, live and get dumber. I find that is true of life
general. The older I get and the more I learn the
realize I don't know.
The ORIGINAL (all mimics must pay royalties) Obligatory Marmot Shot
After the summit we
hurried down as
the weather seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. There
brief outbursts of thunder and lightning in the distance but
fortunately all it really did to us was hide the sun which had baked us
all day long.
One nice thing about
up the non-tourist routes is that you seldom see anyone. I
allot of people complain about the crowding on peaks and hear the
forest service gestapo use this as justification for restrictions but
if you get away from the 14ers there is a great deal of solitude to be
had. Dave and I managed to take a calm and leisurely hike
the truck without seeing a single soul and were blessed by having the
scenery and surrounding all to ourselves (except of course for whoever
was shooting a semi-automatic rifle in the basin below). It
quite relaxing to take the time to take pictures and soak in the
surroundings without people about.
Storms Rolling In
We made our way back to
with a bit of glissading and a bit of solid bushwhacking along the way.
All in all it was another great peak and another great trip.
I think at this point I am comfortable with steep snow and owe Dave
some good multi pitch alpine rock routes. I've said it before but it is
worth repeating, Dave is a great partner. One way I tend to
a partner is by my comfort in their holding a rope I am
to and I don't think twice with Dave, I look forward to several
technical rock routes with him this summer.