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2013 Backcountry Trip Reports => April 2013 Backcountry Trip Reports => Topic started by: JasonGerend on 05/19/13, 01:54 PM

Title: April 20, 2013 Foss Peak E. Couloir – 1st descent?
Post by: JasonGerend on 05/19/13, 01:54 PM
Saturday I did what might be the first ascent and descent of a ~650 vertical foot couloir on the East slope of Foss Peak in the Tatoosh Range of Mt. Rainier National Park. Does anyone here know if this has been ascended or descended before? Pictures included below for identification, as well as a trip report and road conditions update for Stevens Canyon Road (sorry it's so much after the fact...)

View of Unicorn Peak from top of couloir, April 8th, 2012
[img width=532 height=800]http://ayxbhw.sn2.livefilestore.com/y2p0YIzw0dVb1B21-hzDYEQZ9phd9IiUwhzBp4jMl7Uyc3ucOttvCvRLJCXZNwkCKY2LiTJcdsLoP9nENkFvPVPzach4n15YJmlj610qPrTMGcBvpHgDnqxBSu8YcKht8uK/DeathByUnicornCouloir_4-8-2012-1.jpg?psid=1[/img]

Location: East of Foss Peak summit, descending to Snow Lake
Length: ~650’ vertical in the couloir + 450’ vertical below the couloir, and maybe a couple hundred above. Total of ~1100’ vertical descent + 270’ at Narada Face.
9.6 miles round-trip from Narada Falls; around 2400-2500’ total vertical climb.
Took me 8 hours car to car, moving briskly with no trail breaking, but at non-superhuman pace (I know there are a lot of backcountry gods and goddesses out there…)

Summary of Tatoosh Conditions:
Spring is in full effect, but there’s still plenty of snow. The Stevens Canyon Road was plowed almost all the way to The Bench, but there were reasonable paths through the 10’ ice cliffs that are the snow banks at Narada Face, Reflection Lake, and Louise Lake. I didn’t take note of paths to Plummer, but I doubt it’d be much of a problem. Turns out that walking is pretty fast, so don’t let the plowed road deter you…

Trip report – “Death by Unicorn Couloir”
PeterC and I spotted what appeared to be a promising couloir from the summit of Unicorn Peak in 2006. It looked fairly long and narrow (perhaps akin to Slot Couloir on Mt. Snoqualmie), and given its somewhat remote (in the winter) location and the fact that we couldn’t tell whether the couloir was contiguous, we guessed that it might not have been skied yet, if indeed it was skiable. So began a minor obsession... I skied into the top of it last winter “just to look”, but couldn’t ditch my partner (an intermediate rider at the time), so it had to wait - until now.

When the timing and conditions finally lined up, none of my die-hard partners were available, so after extensive reflection I decided to go solo. After all, if it didn’t seem safe, I could “just take another look”…

I sailed through the Longmire Gate at around 7:45 AM and was ascending the Narada Face from the Narada Falls parking lot by around 8:30 AM. This would ordinarily qualify as an alpine start for the lands beyond the Longmire Gate, but the gate is now open 24 hours a day, so I can’t use that excuse any more… In any case, I made good time out to The Bench and then around the corner and into the Snow Lake drainage and to the base of the couloir at 4800’.

I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I arrived. My biggest fear was for avalanches, knowing that without a partner my chances of surviving an avalanche were decidedly poor. And although there were sobering remnants of massive slides off Foss Peak directly next to the couloir, the avalanche danger was definitely low. As in non-existent: the bottom 400-500 vertical feet of couloir had essentially two surface textures: avalanche bed sheet ice, or frozen avalanche debris death cookies. Yum.

But I wasn’t about to let the prospect of frighteningly bad riding conditions keep me from my obsession, so I attached my splitboard to my backpack, strapped on my crampons and started to kick steps up the throat of the couloir. About halfway up the ice got firm enough that I could no longer consistently self-belay and I had to front-point rather than kick steps.

This is when I started to question the wisdom of snowboarding down. Nonetheless, I pressed onward and upward, and I was relieved to find that the couloir was indeed contiguous, with no cliff bands to navigate. The top couple hundred feet involved wallowing in relatively decent, if slightly crunchy snow, which was also a welcome, if slow-going, development.

I topped out on the low-angle rolling terrain below the summit of Foss Peak at about 5900’, munched some lunch, and then decided to get it over with and descend. I was still quite nervous about being able to hold an edge, so I decided to ride with my ice axe in hand. If I lost all grip at least I could stab myself to death before getting bludgeoned too badly against the rock walls of the curving couloir, right? Joking aside, I concluded that I could probably chatter my way to one of the wider points of the couloir and then bleed off speed, runaway truck style, on one of the steep snowy alcoves; or if that failed, I might be able to self-arrest and slow my plummet until I could hold an edge.

It ended up being fine. The upper section rode heavy and it was a bit tricky dodging avalanche debris. While chattery, the icy lower 400-500 vertical feet proved manageable. Five minutes later I was eating death cookies and creamy mashed potatoes before coming to rest in the glorious amphitheater beneath Unicorn Peak and the cliffs of Foss Peak, my obsession conquered at last.

While skinning and then walking back to the car, I thought it was almost as if Unicorn Peak had bowed its head and skewered Foss Peak to create the couloir. So I concluded that should the naming privilege fall to me, “Death by Unicorn Couloir” would be a fitting title.

View looking down from top of couloir, April 8th, 2012
[img width=800]http://zoukkg.sn2.livefilestore.com/y2pnueKO6RaZJgPUeouNaXAkNz85y5Eylto4SMFGkwX08pMjdE3Qxp43W-ivm6H5Ydxp9A0ZSiAsgpPru4xthHf-82kZLtJyZzmFcbc8wxmSI1Jq-5f-DzGmN8GeS81CT9C/DeathByUnicornCouloir_4-8-2012-2.jpg?psid=1[/img]

View looking down Death By Unicorn Couloir while snowboarding - April 20th, 2013
[img width=800]https://zoukkg.sn2.livefilestore.com/y2pAH_xGpkuKp_1Z1ILiCLgx8A24ARiPHtn1J2EcsVDTOKyxYPN-_OSUORu7n6sN3cCy00S2pKauutwXt_jqVE12E-gMZ03eJd5MqTSbuTfUtTpuIQ1CxTNulD6r419D8fL/DeathByUnicornCouloir_Overview_VidSnap_4-20-2013.jpg?psid=1[/img]

"Death by Unicorn Couloir" from the summit of Unicorn Peak - June 7th, 2006
[img width=800]https://zoukkg.sn2.livefilestore.com/y2poYuyFw7es58XS5Q0_MOKAcRW6kmNGY4Cml_kyKB5lf-Dy9xHCy9N61PMdKwTds3akzlFNuREX7AHABpyO0kg0uEw3wbQj4-lvCb-4PGPB3_TQGfJyD0wLkYaXut3Z6Tk/DeathByUnicornCouloir_FromUnicorn_6-7-2006.jpg?psid=1[/img]

Title: Re: April 20, 2013 Foss Peak E. Couloir – 1st descent?
Post by: Kyle Miller on 05/20/13, 03:20 PM
Took me 8 hours car to car, moving briskly with no trail breaking

Then obviously you couldn't be the first  ;)

I have a few friends who Swear by Foss and the Stevens Canyon but I go by the rule that it doesn't count as a first until you post it on the internet. 

Title: Re: April 20, 2013 Foss Peak E. Couloir – 1st desc
Post by: JasonGerend on 05/20/13, 07:43 PM
Quote from: Kyle Miller on 05/20/13, 03:20 PM
Took me 8 hours car to car, moving briskly with no trail breaking
Then obviously you couldn't be the first  ;)

I have a few friends who Swear by Foss and the Stevens Canyon but I go by the rule that it doesn't count as a first until you post it on the internet. 

Hey Kyle! Very true on the trail breaking - I guess I should've said "essentially no trail breaking" since skinning on ice and front-pointing doesn't count as breaking trail in my (unpublished) book. :)
I agree with your friends on Foss and Stevens Canyon - fun with lots of solitude... I've only once or twice seen tracks on the north side of Foss that weren't from my group - and it was probably from your friends! :)
In any case, if somebody beat me to the punch, published or not, I'm happy to give credit where credit's due.

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