| The Great White Hope(ful) Couloir
Mt Hope A(13,993)
Mileage: ~8 miles
Elevation Gain: ~5,400ft
Alpenglow on Hope from Quail
The Hopeful Couloir has been on my radar for some time, since it is a classic snow climb according to Roach and highly recommended by some climbing partners. I didn’t know for sure if I was ready for it, but you don’t know if you don’t try right? After the reports that the couloir was in good shape as opposed to most others in this low snow year, I knew it was time to go for it. Earlier in the year Milan and I had talked about doing some snow climbs together this spring, and after some back and forth, he decided he was up for the challenge, as it would be his first official couloir climb. Having only done the Cristo on Quandary and a short snow climb on Mt Wilson from Kilpacker Basin last year, I am certainly still a novice, but was looking forward to seeing how I would do on steeper snow. Having not climbed anything since a week ago when Matt and I climbed Kelso Mtn at night, I was itching to get out in the hills again.
We left Broomfield at the crazy hour of 2am and made good time to the Sheep Gulch TH, arriving at 4:20, and hitting the trail at 4:35, under a bright full moon. We had received great beta from the group who skied Mt. Hope last week that snowshoes would not be necessary, and even with the snowfall from Tuesday, we never regretted the decision to leave them in the car. Some snow on the trail but nothing to worry about. The Colorado Trail up to Sheep Gulch doesn’t mess around, as it starts gaining elevation right away and doesn’t let up until you are at the top of Hope Pass. Milan was recovering from mono and mainly interested in Mt Hope, so we agreed that I would go ahead of him from the start and climb Quail Mountain first. The plan was to meet up at the base of the couloir as close to 8am as possible.
Summit of Quail
Bombproof summit register on Quail
While the main trail up Quail Mtn climbs southeast from Hope Pass, the incessant wind changed the plans. Instead I curved around to the north side of the mountain in hopes of escaping the gusts, and for the most part it worked. It is a simple class 1 walk up with a false summit, but nothing too bad. I arrived on the summit right at 7 and had amazing views of the sunrise and the Sawatch range all around me. The Hopeful looked amazing from that vantage point and I was so excited for the upcoming climb.
While descending Quail Mtn I saw Milan descending Hope Pass down to the apron of the couloir. He was moving pretty slowly as he was breaking trail through some crotch deep snow, and we reunited just before 8 at the bottom of Hopeful near some rocks. Now it was time to get serious. Strapping on our crampons, putting on our helmets, and getting out our ice axes, we were ready to go. Well, sort of. Milan had to chase down his helmet that blew away, and then after that his glove that went further than the helmet, at least 200 vertical feet. While it was a big pain, at least he got them back and it didn’t foil any of the days plans.
Base of Hopeful
Quail Mtn and Hope Pass
Roach has the climb listed as an average of 36 degrees, and for the first half or so, that’s what it felt like. The wind was still being annoying and would force us to ice axe belay occasionally just to avoid being blown off, but we made it work. Climbing the couloir was so much fun, definitely see how it can be addicting. I love the fact that you are taking the most direct route possible up the mountain. One step equals one step of vertical gained, no endless switchbacks or downclimbing around obstacles on a ridge, straight and to the point.
Looking up Hopeful
Milan coming up
Milan getting after it
Not a bad spot for a break
Quail from 1/3 of the way up Hopeful
We took our time in the couloir as the snow was pretty much perfect and we were already in good shape time-wise for the day. I would say we broke the climb up into about 8 different sections, taking breaks when convenient on some rocks along the edge of the couloir. From halfway to the top, the slope continued to steepen. I have read somewhere that the slope on the direct finish is close to 50 degrees, and I am so glad I went for it. Exhilarating does not describe it enough, it was easily one of the coolest things I have ever done. I was also happy that I felt completely comfortable at all times and never felt that I was getting in over my head or above my ability level. Milan opted for one of the escape routes to the left, which was a little less steep. However, it had horrible snow and he was doing some serious mixed climbing. That was the first gully to the left, if you were to go up a little farther it seemed like that arm may have a little better snow for an exit to the ridge.
Looking down from the top of Hopeful Couloir
Pulling myself over the lip of the couloir was an amazing feeling. The cornice that is so often mentioned when talking about this climb is nonexistent right now, so the direct finish option is extremely safe in that respect. Standing on flat snow for the first time in a few hours felt great, as did relaxing and peering over the edge to look at what we had just done. Many times on the climb I couldn’t help but think how crazy you people who ski these couloirs are, it never seems as steep in pictures and I have a lot of respect for those with the cojones and skill level to ski these things.
He's a little tired
Summit of Mt Hope A
From the lip of the couloir it was an easy 200ft vertical to the summit, and Milan and I met up just before. Reaching the summit was great, as we knew the difficulties were over and we had handled them very well. The views from the summit of Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Huron, The Apostles, La Plata, Elbert, Bull Hill, Casco, etc. etc. etc. were wonderful to say the least. Unfortunately the wind was horrible up top, so we didn’t have a chance to hang out too long. Our initial plan was to descend the east ridge back to Hope Pass but upon further review it seemed like the snow slopes between the east and southeast ridges were the better bet.
Missouri, Belford, Oxford
La Plata w/ Ellingwood Ridge
Huron and The Apostles
We were able to glissade a total of about 1000 ft on between perfect and icy snow. The icy stuff wasn’t too hard that we couldn’t arrest ourselves, it just really hurt, and I have some bruises to show for it. Our initial plan was also to regain the Colorado Trail around the pass, but we went for a more direct route. Since postholing really wasn’t much of an issue, we just followed the snow down the gulch until it ran out. Conveniently enough, only about 100 yards of bushwacking deposited us out onto the trail. That saved a ton of time and switchbacking and we were only 2 miles from the car at that point.
The trail back to the car was pretty muddy, but we did not post hole near as much as we expected, a nice and welcome surprise. From the summit of Mt Hope we had looked down on Twin Lakes and knew we had to stop there on the way home for some photo ops. The view of Mt Hope and the Hopeful Couloir from the lakes and all the way in Leadville is just amazing and it is cool to not just say ‘I climbed that mountain’, but to be able to point out a specific line on it. Milan, awesome job and thanks for being a great partner, I look forward to our next adventure, hopefully sooner than later! Thanks lordhelmut, mtnfiend, benners, and RockyMountainMustang for the beta, much appreciated!
Hope with Hopeful just left of summit
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