| dusty snow in Hopeful Couloir
Route: Mount Hope, Hopeful Couloir, Sheep Gulch TH
Elevation Gained: ~4,700-ft
Roundtrip Mileage: ~7.5-mi
Group: Andy & Sarah
After hearing on Friday morning that the gate closure on Independence Pass is much lower than we remembered, Sarah and I were left scrambling to find new plans for Saturday. After frantically flipping through Roach's Thirteener's book for a while, Sarah thought Hopeful Couloir on Mt. Hope sounded like a good alternative to our original plans.
(Hopeful Couloir as seen from Twin Lakes)
After sleeping in our truck in the parking lot the night before, we left the TH around 4:00 A.M. We started the hike in our light hiking boots with the hope of switching to ski boots and climbing skins within the first mile or so. Much to our dismay, we arrived at Hope Pass over three ours later without ever donning our ski boots! We encountered numerous, steep, irritating snow drifts around 11,000-ft, and some cumbersome bushwhacking was required to pass safely across them without digging out our crampons and ski boots. The surprisingly steep, easy-to-follow trail was 90% dry from the TH to the pass.
Once at the pass, we quickly switched into our ski boots while trying to keep from getting carried away by the howling wind. After gathering up our gear, we quickly skied 200-ft or so down to Hopeful Couloir's entrance, thrilled to get out of the brunt of the wind. Looking up Hopeful for the first time, we were discouraged to see a recent avalanche had run the couloir's entire length.
(Andy and Nina starting up Hopeful Couloir from the apron of Hope Pass)
After taking a long break to get some food, put on our crampons, and rest our already tired legs, we began our ascent of the couloir around 8:30 A.M. The discussion of the troublesome dust layer on the CAIC website already had us a bit worried about the safety of the snowpack, and the existing slide in our chosen route had us worried that we would have to turn around. We cautiously ascended the wide slope below the couloir. We wanted to at least climb up to the avalanche debris field to get a better understanding of the slide before making a decision on the snowpack. As it was still relatively early in the morning, the surface of the snow was very firm. Upon inspecting the avalanche debris up close, we saw that about three inches of consolidated, fresh snow had slid on the dust layer. The remaining snow in the avalanche path, however, seemed stable. We therefore moved onto the slide path for the rest of the ascent.
(Andy and Nina approaching the avalanche debris field)
After 1000-ft or so of climbing in the slide path, it ended about 30-ft below the looming cornice at Hopeful's top. One by one, we carefully made our way to climber's left off the slide path and out onto the snow which was waiting patiently for its own turn to let go. I did a slow, careful, ascending traverse to a talus rib about 25-ft away. Each time that I kicked a step, I tried to ensure that I made it through the top layer to the consolidated snow below. With each kick, cracks propagated in the top 3-in of unstable snow like broken glass, but we were extremely lucky that nothing released. Once we both had safely perched ourselves on the talus, we were relieved to have passed safely yet disappointed that we wouldn't be able to ski the aesthetic line.
(Twin Lakes as seen from the top of Hopeful Couloir)
(Mount Hope's windy summit)
From the top of Hopeful Couloir, we made our way quickly across the ridge line to the summit, sticking to the talus to avoid the lurking cornices. The summit offered fantastic views of the surrounding Sawatch peaks, but we didn't take the proper time to really appreciate them because we were getting pummeled by the wind. After snapping a few shaky photos, we quickly transitioned into our skis. We dropped into the huge bowl on Mt. Hope's east face, where we found very firm, windswept snow for the top 200-feet. As we descended farther down in a leap-frog fashion from point of safety to point of safety, the snow transitioned to amazing corn, and great turns were had by all. We were able to descend to 11,700-ft before reaching the end of the snow. Finally out of the brutal wind, we took a long break to eat some lunch and enjoy the views of Missouri Gulch. The skis and ski boots went back onto our packs, and we made the steep descent back to the car, arriving right around noon.
(Sarah taking a breather on the descent)
(heavy packs once again)
Hopeful Couloir was a really enjoyable climb on a great peak. While we were probably a bit too conservative with not skiing the line, we were just not willing to take an unnecessary risk. At least the wide open bowl on Mt. Hope's east face was a very fun and safer alternative.
If you‘re interested, here‘s a 3-min video of our climb on YouTube:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):