I wanted to write something for this database, which would emphasize how conditions can affect the difficulty of some climbs.
The first time I climbed this route conditions were ideal, and our time from Lake to summit was about 4 hours. Approx. 1 hour for the first couloir. Another hour for the connection into the second couloir, involved setting a few belays, and a short but relatively well-protected rock traverse into the second couloir. An hour for the second couloir, and an hour for the third. The connection between the second and third was thickly iced, straightforward, and really fun. A good time for our party of two, but slow compared to the 3 hours taken by the first ascent party of three in 1974. Itís also worth noting that we spent a day lounging at the lake, when the snow didnít freeze overnight. Surprisingly, after a very warm day at the lake, the snow froze hard the following night. If you had asked us about the difficulty of the Triple Couloirs route then, we would have said it was easy.
The second time conditions were also good, and we were able to climb directly into the second couloir on moderately steep ice, with a rock move or two. This direct variation does not always ice up, but was a real treat in the conditions we found it.
The third time we climbed quickly to the top of the first couloir (aka Hidden Couloir) missing the traverse into the second couloir. Realizing our mistake, we should have descended back to the correct route but didnít. Instead we continued up, and encountered harder climbing than we wanted on the snow covered Fin, arriving on the summit just before dark.
The fourth time, the weather forecast was favorable, and the sky cloudless. The first couloir again was straight forward, and we chose the standard route into the second couloir. By the time we were established in the second couloir, the wind had picked up and powder snow was beginning to blow around. The wind blew the snow up the couloir into our faces, and during lulls the spindrift came from above. The spindrift was unpleasant, but didnít really impede us until we reached the top of the second couloir. The sky was still clear, but the winds and spindrift increased as we continued up throughout the day. We had a really difficult time gaining the third couloir. There just didnít seem to be any ice covering the rock this time. The volume of spindrift was really a problem too. Crampons scraping on rock, very poor pro, and I was unable to communicate with my partner Brian Nelson (no relation). My worst spindrift experience in 30 years of climbing. The third couloir was again straight forward step kicking, though cold and unpleasant with the wind and blowing snow. We reached the summit a little before dark, dehydrated and began the descent immediately. We were out of the strong winds for a while on the other side of the mountain. As we neared Asgard Pass the winds increased, until we were unable to stand up. We began to crawl, and fortunately had stayed roped together. With the blowing snow, and now darkness we became completely disoriented for maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Without a compass, we could not be sure which direction to crawl. Eventually we realized we were crawling down hill, and knew that must be the way towards Colchuck Lake. As we descended the wind decreased, and we made the lake and our camp shortly after. We were pretty dehydrated, and I consider it my closest call in the mountains. The skies stayed clear, and the following morning was calm and lovely.
All 4 of these climbs were made at approximately the same time of year (April-May) over a 10 year period.
That rock step to gain the third couloir is spicy when it's bare. We did kindof a little drytooling traverse type thing up in there when we climbed it two years ago. It would be cool to see that step covered....although for other reasons.
All I do is surf now...but might make a guest appearance on a mountain or two near you
What is the scoop on protecting the rock? Nelson mentions a 5.8 down climb into the second col. So there's more rock entering the third. Are they cracks that fill and freeze or can you find protection on the sides of the snow?
You can down climb it if you like, but when we were there last year, there were multiple anchors you could rap off of and just be done with it. It drops you right where you need to be, and then you're off and running again up to the second ice section.
"prepare, do your best, and continue trying after failures." -George Lowe