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Argonaut Peak- NE Couloir ski descent

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On sunday I skied the NE Couloir of Argonaut after having climbed to its summit with Dan Smith and Bala Krishnamoorthy. I'm not sure how to post pics, but when I figure it out I will. We started the slog to Stuart Lake trailhead at 10:30 on Sat morning. Dan and Bala were on snow shoes, I was on skis. We made it the basin beneath Argonaut in approx 7 hours. Route finding was pretty straight forward. We came across some skin tracks leading to Stuart and I figured some folks had some ideas for the Ice Cliff glacier. I guess I was right. Anyway, we were all pretty beat by the time we made it to our bivy at 4900'. Dan and Bala shared a betamid and I dug a hole. Weather was nice.


We settled on the NE Couloir because the route we wanted to try had too little snow. We pulled ourselves out of our sacs at 2 am and were hiking a little before 3. The snow was hard and I quickly gave up skinning in favor of bootpacking. Dan and bala managed to snowshoe all the way to the base of the Couloir at 7300'. Like an idiot I carried a pair of leather climbing boots in my pack- not having much experience winter climbing, and not being certain the couloir would be in condition, I didn't want to get stuck at the top having to climb 5.6 rock in AT boots.

The couloir itself went pretty smoothly. Snow was firm but soft enough to get me thinking that I could ski it. We swapped turns kicking steps and found ourselves at the exit onto the upper snowfield a little before 9.


Dan pretty much took over from here. His experience on terrain much more difficlut than what we faced showed as he lead over and belayed us up a tricky step onto the summit snowfield. As I climbed, roped, I knew that I wouldn't be able to ski directly into the couloir.


We kicked steps up the slope to a false summit, climbed back down and around it to the north, then continued upward until we arrived at a beautiful snow and rock arete leading to the summit. I left my skis and pack and followed Dan and Bala as we simulclimed the final 200 feet. There were a few sections of mixed terrain, which we all handled with ease. It was very reassuring to have Dan on the end of the rope- he made everything look casual!


We had great views from the summit. It was a little after 10 and we all were happy with the time we made. We talked about the descent and decided that I would ski the upper snowfield and then make a single rope rappel back into the couloir. Dan and Bala would pull the rope and descend off the south side, where they would traverse to the east until they could find a place to re-enter the North facing side of the mountain.


The upper snowfield had the best snow of the day. Dense powder, moderate grade, wonderfully dramatic scenery. At the rap station we all wished each other a safe descent and parted ways. I rapped the rope's full 60 meters before shouting "Off rappel!".


For a moment I had a feeling of intense lonliness as I stood watching the rope slwoly slide upwards. That was quickly replaced by fear and second-guessing. The couloir isn't super steep- somewhere between 45 and 50 degrees--, but the snow was hard, exposure was significant, and I was alone. Plus, I don't consider myself to be a great skier. I told myself to calm down and take eveything one step at a time. On the way up I broke the couloir down into a bunch of interconnected sections. Every 100 feet or so I would stop, look down, and ask myself whether I could ski this. I felt I could at every instance, except for two. In two places the couloir constricts to less than a ski width. One of them occurs right off the bat at the entrance into the couloir. I practiced down climbing this spot on the way up and felt confident that I could. I also looked for and found a place above the section where I could take my skis off and reorganize my equipment. I did the same at the second constriction, which occurs aprrox. 200 feet above the first. I could see someone better than me skiing the higher narrow bit, and in soft snow I think I might have tried. But as it was I just looked for a suitable staging area and continued upwards. All this to say that as I stod alone at the tope of the couloir making myslef nervous I realized that I was looking at the whole picture instead of the parts. Skiing the whole 1000 feet was scaring the bejesus out of me; skiing ten 100' sections with two downclimbs was something I could handle. Anybody else think this way?


Anyway, I decided the best way to calm down would be start skiing. So I climbed up and over to a good staging area, kicked into my skis, and set off. I made some turns right off the bat to break thru the barrier and found myslef having an enjoyable time. The snow was hard but not too hard- I could break thru, but I could also feel the texture of whatevert I skied over. I took my time and made my way to the higher of the two narrow bits. I anchored myself with my ice axes, put on my crampons (the snow became harder lower down) strapped my skis to my back, and set off. No problem. I don't know why, but I've always been more afraid of down climbing than of skiing. I skiied to the next next constriction and repeated the process. All the while I downclimbed the last bit I couldn't keep from looking at the 3000' of perfectly pitched fall line skiing that stood between where I would soon be and our bivy site. The topping on the cake came shortly after when I looked over to see Dan and Bala making their way down.


Little did I know that the most dangerous part of the day was yet to come. The Mountaineer Creek bridge that had collapsed (underneath Paul I now know) had me sweating bullets and crying like a stuck pig. I was so tired by this point and had so little control of my balance beneath my pack, that I resorted to shoveling away a good portion of the piled up snow before making my way across belly down and spread eagle, pushing my pack ahead of me while Dan pulled on it with the rope that I had uncoiled. Whatever pride I had earned from earlier in the day I quickly lost as Bala came up from behind me and walked across without giving a second thought. I sighed relief, but once again I was in ignorance of what was yet to come:

The ski down from Lake Stuart Trailhead to Icicle creek.


By the time we reached the trailhead it was dark. The snowmobile tracks and snowshoers from the busy weekend had reduced the road to a 4 mile long, bullit proof hard bobsled course. The first mile was ok, but the final three were treacherous. I snow plowed the whole friggin way.

Back at the road I waited for Bala and Dan by sharing the fire of a local gentleman who went by the name of Frontier Franklin who offered me a tall and cold Keystone Ice while I waited. A perfect end to great day. Thanks Dan and Bala- you both were perfect partners!


Edited by ryanl

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Those must have been your tracks we saw and voices we heard while skiing out from Stuart.

The argonaut couloir looked discontinuous at the bottom... did you have to rap?

How was the snow?

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Excellent TR, thanks. And very nice job in the couloir!


I'm glad that I'm not the only one who snowplowed the entire road. I also thought it was fairly miserable.

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Great TR Ryan!


Dan and I made two double rope raps down the

South side. We found a decent horn off the

snow field, and then a strong enough bush for

the second anchor. We were still short by

about 50' from safer terrain, but couldn't

find anything to rap off. Dan cleared out

more than a feet of snow to find ice, but

it was not thick enough to make a V-thread.

So we downclimbed that portion, which

included an interesting step of what I

thought was thin WI2 (about 10 ft long).


We then walked over the East ridge that

connects Argonaut and Colchuck. On our

way up, we had noticed a couloir coming

off from right in the middle of the

ridge. It was not easy to spot that when

looking from above though. There were

some cornices jutting over the edge and

we had to be careful not to go too far

looking for the descent couloir.

After wandering a bit, Dan climbed up to

a vantage point on the ridge and spotted

the exit to the couloir. This couloir

was still in the shade and hence the crust

was decently hard at places. It was only

around 35 degrees steep, and we plunged

our way down to meet Ryan at the bottom

of the couloir.


We thought we heard some voices on Sunday

afternoon when we were packing out (at

around 2:30 pm). Dan shouted a big Howdy,

but didn't get any response.


I was pretty beat by the end of the day.

It took me more than two hours to walk out

the road from the trailhead, and 2 Red Bulls,

1 180, 1 Monster, and 1 cup of coffee to

drive back home crazy.gif.



PS: I'll post some pics later this evening. Patience you must have yoda.gif.

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Now for some pics. Here's the route. I skied from the red dots and rapped from the yellow one:



Looking down at Bala about half way up:


Dan nearing the top of the couloir:


This is where we gained the upper snow field (and also where I rapped on the descent:


The summit arete:


View from the top of the couloir:


This the higher of two spots I downclimbed:


This is the lower downclimb section/entrance (it looks steeper than it is because I'm sitting on my hip:


View down to our bivy site in the valley from the base of the couloir:


Here's the couloir itself:


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Cool man, way to work through the fear. bigdrink.gif


Let's see if we hear about more couloirs later today.


No kidding! Lots of couloir stories this week.


Nice work Ryan! Sounds like you are feeling good about life right about now.

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Here are some more pictures:



View of Argonaut with a shade of a rainbow:





Dan leading a snow/rock pitch to exit the NE couloir:





Me drytooling on to the summit:





Ryan starting his ski descent:





Ryan skiing past Dan, who's climbing down facing the snow:





More turns:



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