| Lackawanna - Snow Gully
As is often the case, I happened to be at work this week, lurking the 14ers.com forums and trying to figure out what I was going to do with the coming weekend. I noticed an interesting thread discussing a possible climb of the Lackawanna snow gully on March 30th. After 2 years of reading 14ers.com trip routes and trip reports, I thought I’d finally join in and see what one of these group climbs is all about.
I set my alarm for 2:30AM Saturday morning assuming I had about 50/50 chance of actually waking up, and surprisingly enough I was able to drag myself out of bed and start loading up the car. Leaving Denver at just before 3, I started the long journey up towards independence pass, arriving about 5 minutes past the 5:30AM meet up time to find only one car already there and waiting. After another few minutes two others arrived and our group for the day was set. After gearing up we started off towards the snow gully, beginning in earnest around 6:15AM.
The snow conditions just above the road were less than ideal, with a thin ˝” of crust covering maybe 18” of faceted “sugar snow”. As the only one without snowshoes, I was able to follow in the tracks of the rest of the group and avoid significant post-holing. I was also thankful for the significant amounts of avalanche debris on the route that provided much more stable footing.
The rather blurry picture below (sorry, the cell phone camera isn’t quite up to par in low light) shows our progress roughly 45 minutes into our day.
And watching the first bit of alpenglow touch the peak of Star Mountain, across the road
Looking uphill, roughly ten minutes later
And, blurry once again, is a view of the group finally leaving view of the road.
The slope eases a bit and the wind packed snow provided better support allowing us to make faster progress up the gully.
Towards the top, the gully opens up into a small to medium sized cirque with deep but stable wind blown snowpack.
A view of the group, nearing the top of the gully
Finally escaping the shade of the gully into the sunlight, but there was still at least another hour of climbing to the summit.
Another view of the cirque, farther up the the gully
I measured the top of the cirque at about a 40 degree slope angle made up of light, windblown snow which made forward progress a chore.
Above the cirque, it’s a relatively short 200-300 vertical feet up a rocky ridgeline to the summit. I took off my crampons and hiked the rest of the way, reaching the summit at roughly 10:45AM.
Some views from the summit
After maybe 30 minutes on the summit, I began thinking about the trip back down, and as the day warmed up, wet slabs coming loose in the cirque. After a speedy, but enjoyable glissade, I found myself back in the gully with the snow quickly softening as the day warmed up and my elevation decreased. The crust layer over the weak, faceted snowpack meant any further glissade was impossible; you just broke through the top layer and stuck in place so the only choice was to plunge-step the rest of the way. For me, the crux of the route was the last 300 yards back to the road. The semi-supportive crust layer was gone and there was no choice but to post-hole in waist deep snow on the way out.
Overall, it was a beautiful day in the mountains. The climb was pretty straight-forward and not technically demanding. If I were to do it again tomorrow, I would have definitely brought my skis (had them in the car, but I had doubts about the skiing with all the crusty snow at the bottom, and carrying the extra weight). I also learned to get the ice axe out earlier. Midway up the cirque I found myself on 30+ degree snow still using poles. I looked down the slope and realized that if I go, there’s no way I’d be able stop myself without an axe, but I should have realized that about 20 minutes earlier.
I really want to thank Scott for putting this together and everyone who made the effort to come out for the early morning start. I really enjoyed chatting and hiking with all of you and though this was my first group climb, it definitely won’t be my last.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):