Mt Sneffels, Snake Couloir
Location: Northern San Juans
Length: about 14 miles and 7000ft RT. 10hr RT
Group/Date: Frank Bowman on 4.6.15
Spring was here. Frank and I had been in contact about going for a line that we had always talked about wanting to ski. Plans fell through for our initial thought in the Elks but our next plan was equally just as prized in our minds. Personally, the moment I heard about this line and that it had a rappel off of the summit of a 14er as the entrance it never left my mind. Plans fell into place and after work on Sunday Frank and I drove the 4.5hrs down to Ouray with plans to attempt the line the next day. Weather called for clear skies but strong winds. I don't know if strong winds could describe what we encountered the next day..
We were able to drive up Camp Bird Rd to the winter closure gate which left us about 4 miles from the summer TH. We had brought our bikes knowing that about 3 miles of the road was dirt and ended up pushing them up about 2k vert and 3 miles until we hit snow and made camp for the night.
The winds increasingly howled all through the night with a few strong gusts waking me up. Alarms off at 5:30 as we sit there both with a little bit of doubt in our minds that the wind would prohibit us of our goal for the day. With hope in our minds we quickly gathered our gear and were off and on trail by 6. The wind wasn't horrible down in the valley but the gusts got increasingly stronger as we got higher and higher in elevation. Nevertheless, we were greeted with stunning views as the sun arose.
2 hours later we found ourselves at the summer TH. We continued on around the corner and up the Lavender Col where we would encounter our strongest winds of the day. Leading up to the top of the Col the winds weren't sustained but sudden 40mph gusts or so would blow out of nowhere. Once on top of the Col we got blasted with sustained 40mph and gusts of 50-60. We both look at each other, smile, and shake our heads. Onward and upward!
From the top of the Col we booted up the couloir to a small rock step to gain the summit ridge. The winds weren't as sustained in the couloir but I still found myself hitting the deck on a few of the gusts.
Once at the top of the couloir we negotiated a small class 3/4 rock step to gain the summit ridge.
Once on the summit ridge the winds would again start to pick up. It got to the point that on exposure to prevent myself from getting blown off the edge of the ridge I would hunker down as the wind gusted and as soon as it would let up jog up a bit and then the wind would gust again and repeat the process.
3 hours and 45 min later we found ourselves on a beautiful albeit very windy summit! Luckily, the winds were not as sustained or strong as what we encountered on the Lav Col and so with smiles on our faces we knew that it was time to bust out the harnesses and ropes. We didn't hang out long and quickly enough there we were ready to rappel into our couloir at 14,157ft!
The moment we dropped over on the rappel the wind stopped. Ahhh. We both ran out the rappel on Frank's 70 meter rope and then down onto a perched bench on the skiers right of the top of the line. Enjoying the sun and the first time of the day without wind we snacked and slowly transitioned.
And then it was time... Frank dropped first.
Shortly after I followed and leap-frogged into the dog-leg where the line started to get steeper and tighter into the choke.
...and into the choke. We didn't measure but guessing the choke max 48 degrees with the funnel above maxing more around 50? With my 154cm splitboard just barely making it by without scraping in the pinch of the choke. What a great line. .
Smiles for miles! Both mega stoked we rounded the corner after the apron and enjoyed a quick snack break and transition. The day wasn't over yet. As soon as we rounded the corner the wind again started to pick up. Now the character building begins. Still another 1.5 miles and 1500ft back to the top of Lav Col we started the trudge.. one foot after another.
The going was going pretty well as we skinned up about half of the backside of Lav Col fairly easily. Then those winds that we had greeted earlier in the day at the top of the Col started to return. The going started to get a bit tough as the semi-edgeable snow started to get firmer and the wind would gust so hard as to blow me sliding back a few feet every couple of minutes. Finally, frustrated and wanting to prevent a "slide-for-life" 600ft back to the bottom of the Col I eventually scurried to the climbers right side and transitioned to boot. Frank battled on and eventually found softer snow higher up. After a long and tedious hr and a half we found ourselves on if you can imagine an even windier than before Lav Col. Almost getting Mary Poppin'ed off the mountain with my snowboard I quickly strapped in as Frank waited below and we then enjoyed the beautiful sunshine as we skied all the way back to camp. A quick breakdown of camp and a 20min bike ride the 3 miles back to the car and it was off to the brewery for some nice cold beers. Super stoked to have skied this one!