| Refrigerator Couloir Ski
Ice Mountain – Refrigerator Couloir Ski
Group – Alex (ahudge), Rick (mtnfriend), David and his dad Kenny, myself
With the spring ski season quickly diminishing due to an extremely rapid snowmelt, the group was in the mood for something very above average to possibly round out the season. After a couple days to recuperate, I've decided there still is some stuff worth checking out, but its tough to think so when you are climbing twice as much vertical as you are actually skiing. Regardless, even the most hardcore of backcountry skiers can admit things are looking kind of grim these days.
After having checked out the Y on Pikes Saturday and finding out there was no reasonable way to ski off the summit (or ski off anywhere for that matter, its nearly dried out from a skier's perspective) I was kind of apprehensive about an approach into the Sawatch. Whichever way we looked at it, the day was going to be fun either way. Alex, Rick and I first met on Savage Peak and hit it off nicely with a fun ski and a fun outing. I met David while working above Wilderness Sports in Dillon. My numerous trips downstairs and constant badgering had us eventually talking about our hobbies, ski mountaineering being the forefront. It didn't take long before we both had interests in the San Juans and a nice weekend ensued around Red Mountain Pass and the South side of Potosi. I also had the pleasure of running into Kenny on a powder day at Loveland, so it was good to have a bunch of like minded people climbing a big mountain in hopes to round out the long approaches of spring ski season with an aesthetic, steep line of the Refrigerator.
Anyways, I met Alex and Rick bright and early at the Silverthorne Outlets and made way for Clear Creek/Winfield, where we met Kenny and David, who camped out there for the night. After the greetings, we were on the trail soon after and making progress up the, at times, very washed out, muddy trail.
Getting ready for the day
For anyone that hasn't been up into the Apostle Basin, the trail is surprisingly flat for the majority of the approach through treeline, with a few river crossings and trail junctions to boot.
This is what happens when you approach in AT boots
the only significant uphill section of the approach
The only sections of note is the trail junction where you follow the sign to Apostle Basin/Lake Anne and soon after you reach treeline after this trail junction, there is a Y in the trail, where you head right and your first log stream crossing.
We reached an opening above treeline, right before where we started skinning and took a nice, long break.
Rick w/ Apostles in backgroun d
David and Kenny
A good amount of the pictures in this report were taken by Alex's new SLR Nikon D3000 camera, two of which were taken during out long break. Kind of inspiring to make another impulse buy. While its bulky and annoying to whip out during skiing, it takes damn good shots.
After our break, the route crossed the stream a couple times. I'm not sure if these were absolutely necessary, I guess we could've hung along the right (SW) side of the valley, post holed a bit, to eventually reach snowline, but it didn't really work out that way.
1st stream crossing
Around 8:30am, we finally reached snow, traded out hiking boots for AT's, put on the skins and made better progress up towards the basin below W.Apostle.
Rock skinning w/ Sawatch Range in back
As we rounded the corner, we were presented with an amazing and terrifying display of nature's fury in the form of a MASSIVE wet slide from, most likely, a few days ago. Looking up high, we could see where the slide was triggered and nearly 50% of the slope had been ripped out to the ground.
Alex in front of a very large slide
It was around this point that Kenny decided to call it a day. His days of 60 degree ski descents were behind him and he was content with enjoying the nice weather and view from a solid vantage point, deep in the basin. It was also around this point where I got tired of dilly dallying and motored up the slope, oblivious to the arduous sidehilling and semi-postholing. I just shut my brain off and put one foot in front of the other. I looked up maybe 5 times the whole way to the base of the Fridge and still managed to take the path of least resistence. I was determined, mainly due to the realization that this season was nearly over. I can safely say I had some sort of summit fever or just an indifferent attitude towards the rapidly softening snow.
Around the time Kenny called it quits, a few tele skiers passed us having turned around due to sketchy conditions. We made a mental note and pushed on. As I neared the base of the Fridge, I noticed a group of 5 come skiing out of the chute and take a load off for a rest. At one point, one of them skied by me, asking about the most logical way out of the basin when staying low. I honestly hadn't paid much attention to the looker's right from down low, mainly because all of our stashed gear required us to come back the way we came. Later that night, I got a call from a mutual friend who said the guys I had passed were all members of 14ers.com, 1 of which I have shared quite a few summits with. Benners, Pioletski, MtnBkrSkrChick, GB and Easy Rider all flew by us and I was completely oblivious.
Anyways, I honestly wasn't worried about meeting new friends at that exact moment. We were about to enter a couloir notorious for rockfall, the snow was incredibly saturated and the day was getting late. To be perfectly honest, none of this really phased me, can't really admit why. Alex and David were willing to summit, Rick was getting worn down, but also willing to give it a shot. Part of the reason for our slow day was we all thought the Fridge got later sunhit, but this was more or less a none factor, given the overnight warm temps. It all came down to our comfort level in the end, and were agreed to just truck up the couloir, spend the least amount of time possible on top and ski down as efficiently as possible.
Some shots of the climb, not too many cause we were hauling ass. Made it from the base of the couloir to the summit in 40 minutes. (I believe its around 700-800 feet, depending on where you begin climbing up)
climbing up the Fridge
About to top out. This was the steepest section that angles to the climber's left
We spent basically the amount of time it takes to strip off the skins and transition into ski mode on top, which was less than 10 minutes. The top of the col was a saturated cornice that none of us felt like lingering around on. We sidestepped onto the flatter face of the chute, sidestepped about 5 feet down before we could enjoy some reasonable turns. It was damn steep up top and the true entrance into the Fridge was even steeper, pushing 60+ degrees, and went at an angle.
Alex skiing off the col
looking down a steep couloir
Once we took a deep breath and entered the pretty narrow, melted out couloirs, it was jump turn central for the next 150-200 feet or so. Turns that kind of looked like this….
each jump turn was a monumental effort
At one point, the chute was so narrow, we almost had to simply sidestep down for about 20-30 feet on thin, quickly melting snow. We were literally in a race against time, this couloirs was melting out right under our feet. Wet slides were no longer our concern, having snow to ski on was. Pretty comical actually.
David getting some decent turns before it got really narrow
Rick opening up into the apron
Alex not having enough room to turn
We were finally able to make it past the narrow sections and open it up for some smooth, graceful rock hopping, muddy saturated snow turns. It was refreshing to ski on snow (who would've thought)!! When it was all said and done, we all agreed the short ski descent was worth the effort, its Ice Mountain afterall.
We all made it out unscathed, sans a few nicks to our ski edges and tip/tail bases, but nothing major. The next goal was to sustain enough elevation to make it back to the saddle were Kenny was patiently and peacefully waiting for us in order to ski back to our stashed gear. This involved traversing across slopes that were positioned under all the water falling from the North Face of Ice Mountain. This wet snow couldn't support a pika, so sidehilling while trying to keep high was a lost cause. We reached Kenny sooner than we had thought and could finally breathe a little easier, for all we had to look forward to was avoiding hidden rocks, dust strewn snow and IPAs and warm PBR.
Traversing out of the basin
Alex and David final turns of the day
And a nice place to take a break and de-skin
taking a break to shoulder the skis for the approach out
I guess you could say we weren't out of the clear yet. While we were up high, those creek crossings were busy smoking crack, drinking grain alcohol and doing god knows what else and they were all angry, destructive drunks. They were also pretty stubborn and wouldn't let us cross them without getting our socks drenched. I could almost hear them laughing at us as we reached treeline. The dead trees weren't too friendly either, they kept on falling in front of us and snagging our skis. Bastards.
Rick trying to keep his feet dry
We got back to the car around 3:30 or 4pm, I straightlined it for the creek where our precious Avery Ipa's were stashed and cracked them open before we could even put down our packs.
Kenny enjoying a day out in the mountains
After shootin' the breeze for a while, talkin bout mountains, backgrounds, favorite beer, favorite ranges, most memorable trips, etc, we packed up and headed home. And what do you know, we both picked the same exact place to eat, Chipotle and ran into each other one last time before permanently parting ways for the evening.
On a side note, anyone is welcome to Monday morning QB my decision to push on with deteriorating conditions. I don't usually start that late and am pretty conservative, as are the guys I skied with having been up with all of them in the past. We were all aware of our surroundings, but I personally kind of pushed the issue for the summit. While none of us got hurt and our logic was there might not be much left of this season, that doesn't make it right or any more logical. I put the good and the bad in the TR cause I get the feeling when people f**k up in the mountains these days, specially with the growing popularity of backcountry skiing (I'm part of this), they leave that part of the tale out, making people think things so smoothly more often than not. I've learned a lot in the last 2-3 years with snowclimbs in Colorado, but I am far from even being considered an expert.
Regardless, we all had a mutually rewarding day on a great mountain with great company. The chute itself was abnormally melted out for this time of year, I'd be surprised if there is any snow left to necessitate any sort of ski descent or even climb. Hopefully there are atleast a few adventures left, despite it feeling like the middle of summer these days.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):