Martha Couloir, Mt. Lady Washington Trip Report

Trail: The Martha Couloir, Class 5.4/5.5, WI3, 11 miles, 4500 ft elevation gain (June 3rd, 2008)

For some reason I have not bothered to do any alpine routes for a good 6 months.  I have not even had the interest to try any over the whole winter of 07/08 and have contented myself with hiking up Green Mountain in Boulder three to five times a week.  This isn't to say I've been being lazy as of late and  I've actually been doing a good bit of stuff in the interim.  Since my last alpine trip my wife and I received our WFR certifications, our PADI open water divers certification, gone diving in Cozumel, I've gotten in the best shape of my life, I've done a good bit of ice climbing, and I'm pushing into following 5.10b/c and leading 5.8.  

As always happens I start to get the bug again and decided to look at what I wanted to do this summer.  I guess I don't care as much about numbers of peaks any more and want to concentrate on just climbing fun stuff (as well as finishing my last two 14er's).  One route that has been on my list for a long time is the Flying Dutchman with a link up of the Stepladder on Longs.  Brian Hynek also has been staying out of the alpine and decided he'd be interested in the route. 

We met at my house in Boulder at 3:30 in the morning and headed to the Longs Peak trailhead.  The weather was forecast to be good with only a 10 percent of showers.  We left the parking lot around 5:00 AM and set out for our chosen route.  By the time we reached the ranger cabin below the loft the sky had gotten pretty cloudy and it was flurrying.  The last time I saw cloudy weather on what was predicted to be a bluebird day I ended up huddled on a belay below the top of the Notch Couloir with lightning smashing down around me.  With this in mind I said I wasn't going up Longs Peak.  Brian agreed and we decided to hit Martha Couloir.  

We headed over to the base of the couloir and found the first rock step almost entirely melted out.  We climbed up the snow and carefully avoided falling through some brittle ice to a deep, wet hole below and then made our way up some easy but loose rock steps to the base of the snow where we pulled out our ice tools and donned our crampons.  

We soloed up the snow to the first constriction where we found a mixture of snow and brittle ice.  At one point we climbed over some ice that had a stream of water running under it.  While not particularly scary or hard it was a little nerve wracking to think of falling into the water.  At the next rock step we decided to rope up.  The ice was pretty thin and we weren't sure if it would hold our weight or if  it would break away with us on it so prudence demanded a rope.  If the ice had been more solid the whole route would have been a fun solo.

Brian took the first lead and headed up and immediately out of view.  I have to say that this route is really a bowling alley when it is melting.  Ice chunks and rock chunks flew past me on a regular basis and at one point a tennis ball sized rock came flying down and cracked me on the head.  Luckily for me my helmet took the brunt of it and I was fine but it would have knocked me unconscious or killed me if I wasn't wearing one.  I'd strongly advise against climbing this route with anyone in front of you.  There was a pair of climbers below us who took cover and waited for us to finish the whole route before they started up it and I hope we didn't get you guys with anything.

When Brian reached a belay point I started up.  The climbing was actually very fun and I was treated to 150 feet of ice and rock which required a decent bit of delicacy as the ice was thin.  My favorite section was where the route narrowed to a v-slot and I had to gingerly stem up on ice and rock with good sticks but insecure feet.  After 150 feet the route returned to snow and I headed up to where Brian was.  I'd say this pitch was at least a grade more difficult than anything on the Notch Couloir or Dreamweaver so plan accordingly if you try to hit it.  In fatter conditions or with more snow this whole section would be a lot easier but a whole lot less fun.  

The final pitch was in, a nice 25-30 foot curtain of AI3 and I'd agreed to take it.  This was to be my first ice lead but everyone said how well the walls took cams so how bad could it be?  I headed up and found good sticks and foot placements but the ice was wet and not totally bonded to the wall in all places.  about 10 or so feet up I put in a small Alien and a very questionable ice screw.  I kept on going and was feeling pretty good until  reached a big rock which prevented further passage.  I started getting nervous when there was no more protection to be had anywhere.  The ice was very crappy and shattering so a screw would have been worthless and there was nothing to be had on the rock.  I very gingerly stemmed around the rock, set my tools on the right side of it, took a deep breath, and stepped up.  It was over and I hadn't fallen.  I was pretty happy to have lead my first ice pitch and pretty happy not to have decked (which I would have given how far below me the gear was).  I kept on up easy snow until I found a place to anchor then brought Brian up.  When Brian reached me we untied and kept going up until the snow petered out.  We took a short break, removed our crampons, stowed our tools, then headed to the summit for a brief bite to eat.  

At this point it was snowing a lot harder and was pretty windy so we made our way down the crappy east ridge of MLW.  I won't ever do that trail again, it stinks and is hard on the quads and knees.  We headed back down into the trees and took a shortcut path straight back to the trail which dropped us off near Goblin's Campground then took another shortcut which reduced the whole hike through th trees to less than 2 miles.  All in all in took us 9.5 hours but we spent about one and a half hours relaxing in various places.  We stopped off and grabbed a beer then headed home.  Hopefully I'll get up Longs again soon enough because I love that peak but Martha was a very fun day and a route well worth doing if it is in condition.  Right now though I'd say it is going to be gone so you'll have to wait until next year.  

Martha Couloir

Brian coming over the first step, no snow or ice today

Heading up to the first constriction


Looking at the start of the normal 4th pitch

Time to rope up, the ice might not stay on the rock

The rock that nearly took out my face

The last pitch and my first ice lead, self serving action sequence to follow

Brian coming up the last bit of snow

The Flying Dutchman and Lamb's Slide

The East Face of Longs

Almost to the Top of MLW

Snowy Brian

Snowy Jared

10 percent chance of showers today

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