Peak(s):  Aetna, Mt  -  13,745 feet
Date Posted:  05/22/2014
Modified:  05/23/2014
Date Climbed:   05/17/2014
Author:  globreal
 Climbing The Grand Couloir  


Climbing THE GRAND COULOIR


If you've driven over Monarch Pass from Gunnison to Salida in clear day time weather...you've seen this amazing peak and couloir!
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Mount Aetna 13,745 (BiCentennial)
Taylor Mountain 13,651 (BiCentennial)

Several years ago, my climbing friend Steve Gladbach suggested we go climb Mt. Aetna. Back then I was focused on a different list and wasn't interested. However, after a hut trip last December at the foot of Aetna, this peak came into my sights. After talking with Ken Nolan about it, he mentioned that THE GRAND COULOIR on Mt. Aetna was his favorite snow climb in the state. That sealed the deal for me. I'm going for a spring snow climb of THE GRAND!

The trailhead for these BiCentennial peaks is right at the snowmobile rental shop on Hwy 50 which is labeled on maps as Garfield, CO. The signs on the road now call it Monarch. This rental shop is just west of that big Monarch Lodge building but on the opposite (north) side of the highway. If coming from the east, it is approximately 13 miles west of Poncha Springs, the junction of Highways 50 & 285. If coming from the west, it's about 3.5 miles east, down the pass, from Monarch Ski Area. Just to the left (west) of the rental shop, is FS230. In the summer you can drive up this road, in the winter, you park just beyond the rental shop, along the road heading west. Pull way over as to not block the snowmobile path.

Our current trip was in May, so some of this road had melted out and we were able to drive up .4 mile and the steepest part of the road. Yay!

Our plan was a do a clockwise loop for these two peaks. (See map at end of report.) Route finding is quite easy as you are hiking the FS230 road approximately 2.5 miles up the Middle Fork of the North Arkansas river drainage.
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In the winter, the snow is usually packed by the snowmobiles, which is a nice plus! The photo below is of Candice back in December when we hiked this same road for a hut trip to the Lost Wonder Hut. Great time by the way!
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Our trip was in May, and the track was still in. Eventually, you start to come out of the trees and things open up. First light and a moon.
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Mike and Sarah gander up, getting a first look of our goal.
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Tight shot of the upper couloir.
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It becomes quite obvious that you are at the foot of THE GRAND COULOIR! It comes right down to the forest service road.
Let the climbing begin! Mike and Sarah start up the 3,000 foot (almost) snow climb...THE GRAND COULOIR. Where the couloir starts at the road the elevation is 10,800. The top of Aetna is 13,745. So, it's close enough to round this number up to 3k.
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This bottom section is kind to us....the ramp-up is not to bad.
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(photo by Sarah Simon)


It doesn't take long to realize, it is a loooong ways to the top of this thing!
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As we start approaching the trees on the right, the slope angle is ramping up.
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Mike is making good time as he nears the halfway point and the first rays of sunshine are hitting the top left of the couloir. Isn't there something about those rays of sunshine that just bring encouragement?
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Looking back at Clover Mountain (12,955) which is enjoying the morning sunlight. The moon is dropping and Sarah is making her way up.
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Compare the size of that ridge cornice to the size of Mike way below it. That is a monster cornice!
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A little further up, Mike approaches the evidence of a slide.
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Looking back again over to Clover Mountain and Bald Mountain...both 12ers on the other side of the Middle Fork.
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During our climb up the snow, Mike dropped his mittens. Crap!...they are sliding to the bottom of this huge snow slope! I saw them coming down and ran out into the middle of the couloir to cut them off. I was successful in the retrieval and so Mike came down to me for them, and then continued on down to Sarah to encourage her, as she was dragging today. (What a good guy.) That's how he ended up below me and back with Sarah. You can see evidence of the snow slide again.
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Selfie in THE GRAND COULOIR.
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A ways to go...and it's getting steeper.
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A wide shot reveals Mount Ouray off to the south...which by the way, is a great Centennial climb!
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As you can see the slope angle is ramping up over 40 degrees. And yet, while it's been getting steeper, the snow has been very stable. We had a big spring snow storm hit 4-5 days earlier, but with enough sun to encourage the spring freeze-thaw cycle.
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Looking back down this massive snow slope.
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There's still a ways to go to reach the top of this incredibly long couloir climb. And it was at this point that the snow consistency began to change.
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As I got to the last 100 vertical feet to the ridge, the top layer of 6-8" began sluffing off with each step. With the vertical slope angle, it was a bit un-nerving. So, I moved into a two-handed, self-belay movement with my ice axe. While, I had an axe and could self-arrest, I didn't have any desire to chance it.
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I kinda figure about 1mph for steep climbs, and this turned out to be just about that as it's 1.1 miles from road to ridge top. We started climbing up the couloir at 6:23am. And, just keeping a moderate pace, I topped out at 9:25am. 3,000 vertical feet=3 hours. The summit is just a short jaunt over there.
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Wow! What a view. From R to L, the highpoints are Shavano, Tabeguache, Antero, Cronin (super white), Princeton (in the distance).
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I made my way over to the summit to find a place to hunker down out of the wind. A short time later, up come Mike and Sarah.
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Mike, just below the ridge. He makes it up and then...
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Sarah reaches the ridge with that $#!+, that was tough!" look.
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Now, that we are all on the ridge, time to make our way over to the summit.
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Sarah, celebrates a new summit with a little summit planking!
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Yeppers....we did a summit selfie.
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Mike starts heading over to Taylor, which is about 1.1 miles away.
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But before making the trek, Mike waves his US flag from upon high.
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On the downhill off of Aetna, we get some glissade time. I was happy to see Sarah give it a go, as she's had a past bad experience glissading with an axe!
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We made it down to the saddle in no time. Now it's time to reclimb some lost elevation.
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But before heading up, we look back at Aetna that we had just descended. She's a beauty!
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Time to climb up to that false summit. It looks pretty pointy from down here. I was hoping it doesn't loose a bunch of elevation on the other side.
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Yay! No elevation loss after crossing over the false summit.
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The obligatory summit selfie.
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We descended off of Taylor heading down the southwest ridge. Our route would take us down into the cirque between Aetna and Taylor to Hoffman Park, shown on most maps. It's down in the trees right at treeline. We ended up dropping off of the ridge into the cirque to soon and ended up on some steep and loose terrain. My suggestion, it to take the ridge down almost to treeline before turning right and down into the cirque. See map below.
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Thanks Ken Nolan for your hearty endorsement of this snow climb. THE GRAND COULOIR doesn't disappoint! What a great day with great partners.
God is good!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
BostonBD

Super Report and Photos
05/23/2014 03:06
Well done! Amazing photos and wonderful trip report! Thanks for sharing.


Rainier_Wolfcastle

Nice work!
05/23/2014 03:52
Thanks for the excellent report. This climb has been on my short list all spring and I really appreciate the beta. Congrats on a heck of a snow climb.

We need to get together for a climb in the coming months...if I don't see ya next weekend, I'll be seeing you the following Saturday in Aspen.


SurfNTurf

Looks awesome
05/23/2014 13:44
Great report Britt, hope I get to put your beta to use soon.


bergsteigen

Glad you got it done!
05/23/2014 16:32
Tough being so close on that hut trip, yet so far away! I'll go back one day too, to climb and ski it.


Chicago Transplant

Memories
05/23/2014 18:13
The first time I ever climbed with Steve was doing this exact same loop in 2008, thanks for the trip down memory lane!


TakeMeToYourSummit

Monarch Pass Highpoint Adventure
05/23/2014 20:21
Nice report - back in the state.
Looks like you all had a great day!


BostonBD

Super work!
05/24/2014 11:23
Premium photos and report Britt!


SnowAlien

Same Loop
04/02/2015 19:45
We did this loop a month ago in the opposite direction. We ascended Taylor using FR 228 (Taylor gulch) - it is very straightforward and was the easiest part of the loop for us. In fact, the fastest person in our party made it to the top of Taylor in 2 hours, and it took me about 3 from leaving the parking lot. Cannot recommend this approach enough - and you get to see the stone quarry about half-way. We then traversed the ridge to Aetna, but instead of skiing Grand, we skied the SE face of Aetna, which put is in the basin between Taylor & Aetna. It was very doable on skis but I cannot see how it can be fun on 'shoes. Fun trip!



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