Pikes Peak (14115')
Via Crags/Rumdoodle Ridge Approach
Y Couloir Direct Branch (North Face)
April 21, 2012
14 miles, 6000 feet gain
Participants: Dave Hale, Dave "Hoot" Gibson, & Kevin Baker
A very dry winter has left Pikes about as bare as I have seen it in April since I have lived here. I was pretty much resigned to the fact that it was highly likely our streak of 6 years in a row of climbing the Y couloir would be broken. Hoot and I have some how linked up every year, with last year being the first time we didn't make it to the top because of poor snow quality. We decide to give it a shot as Hoot reports that he sees continuous snow after a decent storm.
The thin north face from Woodland Park:
I debated between a day hike from Manitou or up the Crags and down Rumdoodle Ridge to the Bottomless Pit. A day hike of the Y would be border line death march material, so I decided to join Dave up the Crags, "only" a 6K vertical endeaver as one must lose about 1500 hard earned vertical descending Rumdoodle Ridge into Bottomless Pit. I thought it would be a nice tour of Pikes though, plus a new route to check off!
Hoot kept with the usual tradition of packing into Barr Camp Friday night and the plan was to somehow meet him in the Bottomless Pit at 7:30 Sat morning. Dave and I set off at 3:30am from the new Crags trailhead at 10000 feet. I got a few hours of sleep in the truck. We made our way up the familiar Crags trail and this was the first time I've been up it in the dark. It was really icy in spots in the trees which slowed us down a good bit, but we made good time. Low and behold, just above treeline we see something glowing ahead just off the trail. Are there really UFO's landing on Pikes? LOL. No, it's a tent no more than two feet off the trail! Odd place to camp for such a short approach. We're able to follow the trail until a few hundred feet below the top of the bowl. The snow is very firm with minimal postholing and the wind picks up enough to keep us moving. We hit the road and are treated with a cool sunrise at 13K!
We're a bit behind schedule and it looks like there's no way we're going to make it down to Bottomless Pit on time, so we take the road all the way to Rumdoodle Ridge. A ranger barrels by and doesn't seem to care that we're breaking the rules.
Breaking the rules:
I've gone up Rumdoodle Ridge, but never down. I remember a few third class boulder moves here and there with a lot of weaving, but the way down is complicated a bit with snow. I stuck close to the ridge in one section and had to do some canyoneering downclimbing moves to get off it. Fun stuff! Lots of bobbing, weaving, and hoping you don't find any waist high postholes between the boulders!
Dave bobbing and weaving on Rumdoodle:
We soak up a sweet view of the north face on the way down. It looks the thinnest it's been by far in my 7 visits, but there's a decent chance it might be continuous. Dave is hesitant that conditions are going to be decent enough to make it worthwhile, so he decides to bail on the Y and go back up Rumdoodle to summit via the Crags. We spot Hoot down in Bottomless Pit and I part ways with Dave. He'll be waiting for us for awhile up top!
The thin north face:
I bomb down loose, sandy scree slopes into the Pit and meet up with Hoot at around 8am. Ball bearing scree makes for a quick descent down to the Pit. Hoot reports that the postholing is minimal on the traverse on the Bottomless Pit trail. Usually, it's a sidehilling wallowfest this time of year!
Rumdoodle Ridge and the scree descent on right from Bottomless Pit:
We wrap around the north ridge and head for the apron of the Y. One year we were able to snowshoe all the way to the apron. This year, we're on talus until we put on crampons at around 12600 feet.
Looks like it's in, but how far?
The winds have been swirling around the Pit on our approach, but things calm down on the face and it's another bluebird day in the Y. The snow down low has not quite transitioned to spring like conditions, but we are very confident with the stability. I take the first lead and it feels a bit steeper than usual as it is very firm, which seems to be a theme with the 3 couloir climbs I've done so far this spring. Little chunks of ice whiz down from time to time, so we have to be cognizant of what is coming down. The good thing about the Y is there hasn't been a problem with rockfall any of the years we've done it.
Hoot enjoying himself:
Our goal this year is to find a route to the elusive far right branch. I think I've done 2 versions of the left branch, the direct branch a few times, and the right branch. The far right branch takes some mixed climbing to traverse into, and there's a good chance it will be too sketchy. Hoot takes a turn right before the split and we head far right to the little headwall we must traverse over to for a shot at the far right branch. It feels a little steeper this time, but there's some powder higher up to make kicking steps easier.
Hoot takes the lead:
Hoot nearing the crux:
The crux isn't bad, but we have to traverse left above the little headwall to weave around another exposed section of rock. We then climb another steeper section and find out that there's way too much ice to surmount to traverse into the far right branch. Hoot has a 2nd tool, but I don't. It isn't worth the risk today for sure, so we downclimb back to the little traverse and get into the direct branch.
The direct finish:
The direct branch is mostly blown clean of any powder and my calves are burning as we're front pointing quite a bit. I'm feeling that 6K vertical now! The direct branch doesn't get any steeper than 45 degrees, but that's steep enough to get your attention when it's this firm. We can see Dave at the top of the couloir and it seems to take forever to get there, but we make decent time despite the backtrack and top out at 11:30am to some tourists taking some shots of our climb! Dave must have attracted the paparazzi looking down!
Dave Hale gets a nice shot of us coming up:
Hoot topping out:
We enjoy a nice, long break in the summit house and Hoot decides to head down the Crags with us to make it a grand tour for him up Barr, through the Y, and down the Crags. The trail down to the road is a bit tedious with the snowy talus, but not bad. There are a few groups still making their way to the top. The good thing about the Crags is it's a pretty speedy descent with snow. The snow is a bit too soft to glissade much. The tradition lives on climbing the Y! Maybe will get that elusive far right branch next year with more snow!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):