TR: El Nacho Couloir 5.11.19
(Last Updated On: May 16, 2019)
Spring 2019 has been an interesting one in the Colorado mountains. While there have been occasional weather windows, especially in April, May has featured storms and warm temperatures. While it’s been nice to catch May powder, that same powder often sluffs right off and makes conditions worse in a day or two after a storm. It’s hard to be a skier and be upset when it snows, but sometimes the thought of a nice heavy freeze under clear skies sounds nice. It sure would make it easier to ski bigger lines in the alpine.
So it was last weekend when Brittany and I set off to ski something off of “no name” ridge, the long ridge extending East of the Copper Creek drainage above the East river (easily seen from the ski area). With a few inches of snow over the previous 2 days, we hoped to ski powder in the sheltered North facing El Nacho couloir, or if we really got lucky, a West facing line that we’ve been wanting to ski might go, too.
Getting to this area in late spring is a bit of a slog. Heading directly towards no name requires a cold crossing of the East river, or heading all the way to the Gothic townsite to get over the bridge. Sadly, Gothic road has been closed to snowmobiles since the late 90’s, aka the good old days. So slogging we went, eventually crossing the East river just before the bridge thanks to a massive slide that came off Gothic’s East face. The nice thing was that even low-elevation South facing terrain was still holding snow:
Ascending this area has always seemed tricky thanks to convoluted terrain and thick forests, but this time we just headed downvalley and had great access to the bottom of the “big bowl” and a straightforward ascent from there. Remnants of this bowl sliding were still visible as well:
We ascended what we’ll call “Pavillard ridge”, a shallow ridge that is just a hair less steep than the surrounding terrain. Jean Pavillard and a group of aspiring guides were descending the ridge 10 years ago when a massive slide took out nearly all of the terrain surrounding them- a highly visible lesson in slope angles and terrain management for everyone in the Crested Butte area to see.
We reached the top and determined that the West facing terrain unsurprisingly formed a crust the day before, so we decided to ski El Nacho into Queen basin. the last time I skied it, it was after the ’96-’97 season on skinny skis with my friend Bart, who has been ski patrolling up in Big Sky for the past 20 years or so. But first, scenics. Gothic and Owen:
Southwest face of Whiterock, and the White Widow couloir, two routes in our guidebook:
Pyramid, and Maroon on the far left:
Time to ski, heading to the couloir.
The first turns in the couloir were pretty good:
Then we discovered that the couloir slid, and we were actually going to be dealing with plenty of debris. Brittany:
Most of the skiing in the couloir was difficult and energy-intensive, requiring plenty of momentum to keep the flow. The apron, on the other hand, was perfection:
On our way out, we ran into some of the guys from Cold Smoke Splitboards, who had skied White Mountain and the White Widow couloir. Pretty awesome to see outher people getting after it, slog and all… While we didn’t quite find the conditions that we were looking for, it was still a great tour and trip down memory lane in my case. The following day we decided to try something decidedly easier- the Grand Couloir on Aetna. More on that later…
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