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NWAC Avalanche
+  Turns All Year Trip Reports
|-+  2006 Backcountry Trip Reports
| |-+  January 2006 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  January 28-29, 2006,  Hellmouth Couloir, Montana
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Author Topic: January 28-29, 2006,  Hellmouth Couloir, Montana  (Read 2434 times)

Posts: 8

January 28-29, 2006,  Hellmouth Couloir, Montana
« on: 02/01/06, 09:23 AM »

There are many pictures on my website with my TR for Hellmouth Couloir.

       Without access to a sled, Alex Lowe Peak (formally Peak 10,031) is a two day climb in winter. The route with the least elevation gain was up South Cottonwood Creek. The distance from the car to the peak as the crow fly's is about 9 miles, which we estimated to be about 12 or 13 miles of trail. On Saturday morning we hauled our overnights packs 8.5 miles up the trail. After setting up camp we proceeded up towards Alex Lowe Peak to gain reference for Sunday. We spent two hours setting in a skin track and navigating the wooded areas, to make for a fast approach in the morning.

       Sunday morning we were up well before the sun, boiling water and cooking breakfast. By 7 am we found ourselves traveling up our already set skin track, to the base of the couloir. As we approached the base of the Hellmouth Couloir Patrick stopped to dig a pit, while I continued to set in a skin track. As I began to boot up the couloir, the chock stone towards the bottom was clearly visible. With little information about the couloir and access to only summer pictures, we assumed that the large boulder wedged in the bottom of couloir would mandate a rappel. The fact that Alex Lowe and Hans Saari had supposedly rapped over the chock stone at the bottom furthered our assumption that this was the crux of the couloir. As I approached the chock stone there was a clear line around the large rock, skiers left. A steep path on a thin snow pack made it difficult to ascend past the chock stone, but we were able to manage. We were thankful to find a skiable line down the bottom of the couloir, and our worries were relieved temporarily.

       As we boot packed further up the line we ran into a small cliff, which unfortunately had no ice. If the face had ice on it our decision would have been simple, climb and protect the ice. But the snow and rock face would be unprotected, yielding much more risk. We did not bring any traditional climbing gear to use on the rock, but there were no cracks to insert protection into any way. Patrick and I both knew that the only way to reach the summit at this point was up the couloir, due to the interest of time. Without any dry tooling experience both of these free climbs were intense. The first pitch was not vertical, so I was able to rest and keep my composure. It allowed me to find good placements, and conquer my first dry tool climb. I set up a belay station using a picket and an mountaineering ice axe to bring Patrick up. Our packs were too heavy to hall up with skis on, so we decided to leave our skis and packs down in the couloir. After surmounting the first cliff, there was another larger cliff 100 feet above the first. With a little confidence from the first cliff and a fair amount of rock climbing experience I decided to lead up this obstacle as well. This cliff was significantly longer and steeper that the previous one, but climbable. As I proceeded to climb, all the while clearing snow off the rock, I became slightly uncomfortable. Half way up the pitch my leg started to shake, and I knew I was thinking too much. I took a deep breath and relaxed, knowing that the shakes are only mental. To comfort myself I took a piece of cordlet and wrapped it around a small horn, then clipped it to the rope I was dragging up. Patrick put me on belay, but knew that I would rip the cordlet off the wall if I fell. With comfort in the belay, I proceeded up and over the crux of the wall to a tree above. I was able to climb the 30 ft face and set up a belay on a tree above for Patrick to ascend. As Patrick came over the top of the cliff and lowered his ice tools he mentioned that his forearms were pumped, and it was easy to tell his hands were on fire.

         From the top of the second cliff there was a clear route to the summit, 100 vertical feet up the couloir than a class 3-4 scramble up the north west ridge. Patrick and I found ourselves standing on the top of Alex Lowe Peak about 30 minutes after the last belay. The sun poking through the clouds allowed for fantastic views of the peaks surrounding us. With a long exit back to the car we spent less than 5 minutes on the summit. Two rappels on our two 30 meter ropes left us standing next to our skis. Deep snow made turns down the tight couloir forced and strenuous. After navigating around the chock stone we were able to open up for some wide turns down the bowl. The skiing was good, but our bodies were so exhausted from the last day and a half of climbing even the lower pitch powder skiing was not effortless. We returned to camp, which were able to break it down just before dark. We skinned out 8.5 miles by head lamp with Patrick arriving at the car first at 10 pm. and myself 30 minutes later.

Posts: 797

Re: January 28-29, 2006,  Hellmouth Couloir, Monta
« Reply #1 on: 02/01/06, 09:37 AM »

That sounds like a worthy adventure and the couloir looks nice.  
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