Peak(s):  Silver Mtn B  -  13,470 feet
Date Posted:  07/08/2019
Date Climbed:   05/19/2018
Author:  Boggy B
Additional Members:   Kylie
 The Wire Couloir  

Silver Mountain The Wire Couloir, WI2-3/Steep Snow

Alta Lakes is a popular venue. In the summer it is enjoyed by bikers, hikers, campers, fishers, and kayakers; in the winter primarily by snowmobilers and skiers. Its popularity is deserved; accessible by any vehicle with modest clearance, it is a breathtaking arena of peaceful alpine lakes, verdant hills, and high mountain walls.

In a typical snow year, many potential alpine routes appear in the cirque above the lakes formed by the west face of Palmyra Peak and the adjoining north face of Silver Mountain. This face is host to two parallel weaknesses: a deep central couloir splitting the face, known as "The Wire," and a second prominent couloir to its right (west), called "Silver Chute," which at its base is connected to the other by a narrow chute.

Due to the poor showing this winter, we thought Alta Lakes would be accessible much before usual and were nonetheless totally surprised on an early exploratory drive to find the road plowed to the lakes on May 5. A short hike revealed the significant crux (the usual chockstone) in The Wire was exposed.

We gave the snow some weeks to firm up and on May 19 returned to enjoy a short outing up whichever of the couloirs looked best. In the interest of saving weight, and in accordance with our custom of having wanted more screws than brought, I removed all but two screws from my pack and we set off. The approach climbs directly up beneath the central couloir before a decision must be made about which route to take, so we could see that some drips had formed over the chockstone and passage appeared feasible. Having come equipped for ice, we decided to have a closer look.

Approaching The Wire

We climbed to the obstacle, bashing through a sheet of bubbly, yellow ice encasing the snow below the drips, whose gray tendrils draped either side of the chockstone. The quality of the ice was strange, so I tackled the easier left side, placing a questionable screw before committing. A body length of shabby vertical ice yielded to a plastic low-angle flow, then a bit of snow, and then a final low-angle bulge. We had folded over the 30 m for lead, and I just reached the end of my belay at the final bulge, bringing the total length of ice to 40 feet or so. I plugged the second screw into bomber ice, backed it up with both tools, and belayed Kylie up.

Up the ice

Above the ice, in the left wall, we noticed a rappel station, presumably for ski descents (and with much more snow than the couloir presently held as it was well out of reach). We continued up until the snow petered out some seventy feet below the ridge. We debated moving up the obviously horrific choss littering the top of the couloir but decided instead to exit on steep snow to gain the crumbling spur to our right. This we achieved with a brief but nerve-wracking class 4 transition from bad snow to bad rock.

View from the couloir
Exiting to the right
Following Kylie up
Transition to rock

Once upon the spur, we scrambled up to the ridge and turned towards the summit, bypassing the top of the couloir proper, where we found another rappel anchor and, peering down over the cornice, thanked our stars we hadn't attempted to continue up that way.

After enjoying summit views and poking around the start of the intimidating ridge to Palmyra (FireOnTheMountain completed this traverse years ago and we had considered adding it to our itinerary), under threatening skies we considered our options to descend. Not psyched on downclimbing and rappelling beneath the choss in The Wire, we decided to descend the Silver Chute.

Palmyra and the Sneffels Range

Motivated by increasing rockfall, Kylie blitzed down this steep couloir so fast as to leave me totally baffled and annoyed at my pace. I continued slowly down, pausing occasionally to give wide berth to rocks shedding off the walls before climbing below. Eventually I reached the apron and we hiked down to the lakes.

This was a fun route, and probably more fun in a better snow year when the top of the couloir holds snow. Then the last hundred feet or so of the couloir proper should involve steep snow climbing; in the conditions we encountered, the snow was only moderately steep apart from the miniature ice pitch.

Not my photo. The Wire at center; Silver Chute to right

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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