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[TR] Colchuck Lake area - conditions 03/16/2019

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Trip: Colchuck Lake area - conditions

Trip Date: 03/16/2019

Trip Report:


Given the spectacular weather this past weekend, (March 16th-17th) I considered making an attempt on Colchuck’s North Buttress Couloir on skis.  But due to a lack of mental realism about how out of shape I’ve gotten and just how much longer approaches take during winter conditions, plans evolved into just a nice camping trip next to Colchuck Lake with about 10 lbs of pro/pickets/crampons/ice tools along for the ride as bonus training weight.


Everything is well snow-covered, we were able to skin right from the car.  Snow on the gated Eightmile Road has almost every kind of human tracks you can imagine on it:  snowshoes, skis, split boards, snowmobiles, it was even packed enough to be bootable with only a few inches of boot penetration, but I’d still recommend floatation of some kind.  At the normal summer trailhead, snow looks to be about 4 feet deep right now.  The trail up to Colchuck Lake has a well-packed snowshoe track the whole way up.  Skinning up was fine (though it took me longer than I’d like to admit) with only one occasion where a fallen tree forced us to take skis off to hop over.  Without skis, the packed path was supportive to boots for 9 out of 10 steps, but when postholes did happen they were waist deep.  When we reached the lake, there were probably half dozen other parties in sight, most camping.  We briefly talked to a group of 3 who had made an attempt at Triple Couloirs, but found the runnels to be way too thin right now and were forced to turn back there.  We just camped and went no further than the lake.  Just for the sake of curiosity, my avy probe went 7 feet deep in the snow by the lake before hitting what felt like ground.  Skiing back out along the trail the next day was quite challenging, the most difficult tree-skiing I’ve ever done.  We kept skins on to help keep speed down with all the sudden maneuvering required.  My girlfriend soon opted to just A-frame the skis on the pack and walk instead.  I stubbornly kept skis on the whole way, but with all the shenanigans that “skiing” there required, I progressed at exactly the same pace as her walking downhill.  It is unclear which mode of travel was actually more effort.  We observed a wet natural avalanche let loose on the distant side of the Mountaineers Creek valley, around noon on a very sun-soaked southeastern aspect slope, fortunately comfortably far away from us and coming to a stop well before reaching the trail’s elevation below.  Finally, at the lower of the two places you cross Mountaineers Creek (the bridge at 4000’) the skis finally felt efficient again, with some worthwhile stretches of gliding down the path.  And of course, once back on Eightmile Rd, the gliding on the skis was heavenly, with only two significant spots that required some skating for some otherwise non-obvious uphills.


Triple Couloirs up close


The Runnels on Triple Couloirs with maximum camera zoom




Ski shenanigans coming down from Colchuck Lake


The bridge across Mountaineers Creek at 4000'

Gear Notes:
a 50lb climbing/skiing/winter/overnight pack

Approach Notes:
solid snow cover all the way from Icicle Creek Rd

Edited by RobUSA
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Great beta TR!  Seriously, you headed off nearly every possible question....

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Figured I would post an update (May 4, 2019) on current conditions for those interested.  The bad news.....there is little to no ice on the N. Face of Dragontail.  I was really hoping that the freeze/thaw from the last couple weeks would work it's magic.  The ice runnels on TC look like rock.  We hiked in to climb Gerber Sink but it was mostly rock with just a couple of snowfields.  Ended up doing the Northeast Couloir on Colchuck as a consolation prize.  It was steep snow, even unconsolidated in places which was surprising.  When the route cuts left at the top we took the smaller left hand couloir variation.  It had a couple of easy ice steps and 1 short rock step.....better than the snowy slog up the right hand option.  Came down the Colchuck Glacier which was super straight forward and actually quite soft in the afternoon....it was a nice 2500 ft glissade.

Other notes.....the road is still gated.  In fact there is still 4-6 inches of snow across the road for about 100 yards near the trailhead.  Other than that it was a clear road.  The trail is almost all snow starting right from the trailhead.  In the morning the snow was hard and walking was easy.  On the way down we were happy we had carried up snowshoes so we could avoid the postholing.  We rode bikes from the truck to the trailhead which meant after our long day we didn't have to walk that road down.



Trisha halfway up the Northeast couloir on Colchuck.



Current view (5/4/19) of the N. Face of Dragontail.


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