| Twice Baked in the Savage Couloir
May 13, 2012
Climbers: Kevin Baker & Darin Baker
Savage Peak (13,139’)
Holy Cross Wilderness
Views to the N/NW from the summit of Savage Peak
Trailhead: Missouri Lakes (currently Forest Service Road 704 (a.k.a., Missouri Lakes Rd) is in good shape, a Subaru was at the TH the night we arrived; Homestake Road is also in good shape)
Route: Savage Couloir (NE facing) for ascent; NE ridge --> E bowl for descent
Distance: ~7.5mi’s RT (per Dave Cooper’s guidebook – see below under Resources Used… section)
Elevation Gain: ~3,280’ (per Dave Cooper’s guidebook – see below)
Difficulty: moderately steep snow climbing for ~1200’ (sustained low 40 degree range, with ~50 degree finish)
Approach to the apron of the Savage Couloir
Note: In the above photo, the area in the shade (a.k.a., the apron) provided the best snow conditions for our ascent. The couloir proper was already in the sun at or before 6:30am.
Gear: daypack w/Essentials, helmet, crampons, ice axe, 2nd tool, snowshoes (didn’t use them), avalanche gear (beacon, probe, shovel)
Resources Used For Trip Planning: Dave Cooper’s Colorado Snow Climbs guidebook, TOPO!, National Geographics/Trails Illustrated Map #126 Holy Cross/Ruedi Reservoir, Holy Cross Ranger District for road conditions to TH (970-827-5715), NOAA weather forecast (which we largely ignored the ~70% chance of predicted rain/snow)
Note: In Cooper’s guidebook, Savage Peak is listed as Savage Mountain. On maps and in guidebooks by Roach, it’s named Savage Peak. I assume it could be a typo in Cooper’s book.
Kevin and I planned on climbing this route a couple of weeks ago. However we changed plans when we decided to go to Carbondale to see the 5Point Film Festival the night before our climb. With our proximity to the Elk Range, the original plan of the Savage couloir was put to the side in favor of “Lightning Pyramid.”
Two weeks slide by – we haven’t forgotten about the Savage! Our schedules remarkably align once again, so we find ourselves on a Saturday night at the TH for Missouri Lakes which is the approach used for access to the route.
We’re off from our car-camp shortly after 4am. The trail is spotty snow until the diversion dam which is about one mile into the approach. From there forth, it was continuous snow. Tracks from previous hikers/climbers helped find our way in the dark. They did a remarkable job with keeping us going in the proper direction!
Interestingly enough though, these same tracks would eventually lead to the apron where they went up, but they also came back down. Either they didn’t like the conditions once on the apron, or maybe they down climbed the couloir. I don’t know. What I do know is the conditions we had were ‘safe’ enough for an ascent. (‘Safe’ is a relative term.)
In Cooper’s book, he mentions a stream crossing that can prove to be challenging. We searched around for a few minutes where we intersected the stream and found a couple of options for crossing – both of us taking a different crossing point without falling in. All is well!
Soon enough, we were out of the trees and on our way to the climb
At the base of the apron, we strapped on the points, took our axes out, and started our ascent. The apron was in the shade, so it provided firm conditions that were near perfect for crampons.
Although the surface was quite supportable, the snow beneath is still not quite mature nor is it solid because the shaft of the ice axe easily plunged deep. Layers were not felt though.
Also on the apron was some avy debris that likely came down sometime in the past week or so. I climbed to the left of the debris for better efficiency & rhythm on the smoother surface.
Kevin starting up the apron
I wonder where that left line goes
Out of the shade – into the sun
Once in the sun, the difference was felt immediately – in both snow conditions and feeling the heat from the blazing orb at our backs! We’re going to bake in this couloir!
Boot deep snow was common for the rest of the climb. And we still had a ways to go. An overnight freeze was probably minimal, but the snow had yet to become too saturated for safe travel upwards. Periodically I would pick up handfuls of snow to feel for water content. Thankfully we didn’t experience the snow get much wetter than it was, and we didn’t see any roller balls either.
An earlier start by at least an hour would have made me feel better about the conditions though.
As we climbed higher into the couloir proper, I kept in mind Cooper’s suggestion in his guidebook about staying climber’s left to avoid the fall line for rocks. But as I did so, climber’s right looked more inviting because it had slid, so the bed surface would likely provide better climbing – and it did.
Kevin takes over for a while
Me coming up
(Photo by Kevin’s i(diot) phone)
Near the split in the upper couloir
As we came to the split near the top, I was considering the left exit in favor of getting to the ridge sooner. But the exit was melted out, so we continued on to the direct exit, or, the Baker Direct as Kevin likes to say!
Melted out left branch
(Photo by Kevin’s dUmb phone)
A look at the left exit while on our descent
The left exit wouldn’t be fun with current conditions. The snow ends on down sloping rock that is littered with scree.
The Baker Direct
(Photo by Kevin’s wicked cool almost smart like phone -- but not smart enough to give him the Lakers score from the previous night's game)
From below, the finish appears to be wider than it really is. In reality, it's somewhat narrow. The finished was "finessed" by feel and was confined to a body width because to the sides was rotten snow that had little to no resistance for upward progress. And it's getting thin on the edges as well.
Kevin exits at 8:33am, with the Holy Cross Ridge to our north
Yeah, this is a sweet spot in the Sawatch! One of the finer summits in the Range, says the guy writing this report.
We hang out for an hour, with ideal summit weather for this time of year! No wind, warm, calm, quiet, and oh so beautiful!
Another look at Holy Cross Ridge (not just the 13er, but the whole ridge)
Mt Jackson and Co.
Massive views to the south
The NW parts of the sensational Holy Cross Wilderness
(Photo by Kevin -- a.k.a., Mr. Bluebird)
We descended the NE ridge until we came to a good place to glissade into the eastern bowl. Low angle, safe run-out, and okay conditions for glissading, which worked well to get us to the bottom without much effort.
A look back
As you may have noticed from our pictures, it was a bluebird day. Until our descent that is.
Clouds are quickly building
The clouds that were forming quickly helped keep the snowpack cold and firm below, so our de-proach out of the valley below was not a wallow fest! In fact, once in the trees the conditions were ideal for plunge stepping down.
We also found a better stream crossing than in the morning, and quickly were back on the “trail” and at the car before noon.
Thanks for reading,