Peak(s):  Aetna, Mt  -  13,745 feet
Date Posted:  05/25/2020
Date Climbed:   05/22/2020
Author:  WildWanderer
 Couloir or not to Couloir  

Mt Aetna – 13,745


RT Length: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 4103’

I’m not a fan of couloir climbs, but feel they are something I should practice. I intentionally chose to climb Mt Aetna when there wasn’t a ton of snow so I’d have the option of hiking on either snow or rock.

I left my house at midnight to a swirl of thousands of Miller moths. I’m not exaggerating; as I opened my garage door they swarmed my truck and at least 5 made it inside the cab with me. I spent the next few hours doing my best not to get frightened when one flew past my face.

The drive was uneventful, but I saw no less than 6 police vehicles in the short drive from 285 to the Boss Lake Trailhead (seemed excessive for such a remote area at this time of night). Memorial Day weekend should be interesting. I parked at the lower trailhead so I could add the 1.4 miles each way and hopefully some elevation gain: I’m still trying to keep my average at 10 miles per hike with 4000’ of elevation gain and I’m a little under that right now so every little bit helps.


I parked and was on the trail by 3:15am.


The 230 4WD road isn’t that bad to drive or to hike. I was glad I’d parked where I did because there were downed trees on the road before a little ways before the trailhead


At the trailhead sign I went right


And at the fork in the road I went left (the road has a chain across it and a “no trespassing” sign to the right)


The trail follows the 230 4WD road for 2.5 miles from the lower parking area. At 2.5 miles if it were light out you could see Mt Aetna on your right. I could have driven the entire way to this spot if there hadn’t been downed trees in the way.


I turned right and crossed a boulder field. These rocks were loose and rolled. Since it was still dark I couldn’t see where I was going, so I headed northeast. As the sun started to come up it was obvious I had a lot of options for today’s summit. Here’s an outline of the route I took:


There is actually a lot more snow than it looks like from far away. I followed the gully about a third of the way on rocks and tundra until I had a decision to make: take the ridge to the left, the ridge to the right, ascend the scree just to the right of center, or put on crampons and go straight up the snow



I decided today was a good day to practice my couloir climbing. The snow was firm and I wasn’t the slightest bit tired yet. I strapped on my crampons, got out my ice axe (I brought along two proper ice axes this time but only needed one) and got to climbing.


I changed my intended route several times because the snow was steeper than it looked in some sections.



Once I made it to the ridge I found it was easier to keep my crampons on and walk along the snow than it was to walk on the loose rocks, so for as long as I could I stuck to the snow


Eventually the snow ran out and I followed the rocky but (mostly) dry ridge to the summit




I summited at 7am and kept thinking to myself “that was much easier than I’d anticipated: why don’t I like couloir climbs again?”

Caption Here

Mt Aetna Summit:

I stayed longer at the summit than I usually do, taking a good look at the nearby mountains I wanted to summit tomorrow, checking to see if the crux area was free from snow. It looked like it was, but a lot of the area seemed to be hit or miss with snow and too much was still in shadows to be completely sure.



Here’s the route I took down, keeping to the snow as much as possible.



Make no mistake, it’s steeper than it looks but the snow was still firm and I was able to walk down the entire way without turning to face the mountain.


What’s nice about this climb is you have a visual the entire way up and down of where you need to go.


I made it back to the road, turned left, and followed it back to the trailhead.




I made it back to my truck at 10am, making this an 8 mile hike/climb with 4103’ of elevation gain in 6 hours, 45 minutes.


Here’s a topo map of my route.


Now I was off to the next trailhead. As soon as I came to an area with cell-service I pulled over to text my kids and see how they were doing (they were still sleeping). As I was sitting there an undercover cop pulled someone over for speeding right behind me. At first I only saw the flashing lights and thought I was in trouble for something. I sat there for a good 20 minutes and luckily for me, I was never approached and the police officer left before I did. But I got to see him again.

I turned onto CR 240 as I was headed to my next trailhead and saw two police vehicles parked on either side of the road. There were two police officers standing outside of their cars, stopping vehicles. I panicked and turned right into the (semi) residential area, drove for a bit, parked, and thought about my next move. Should I try to continue on to the trailhead, or turn around and go home? In the end I chose to continue to the trailhead: If I got stopped and ticketed or told to turn around at least I’d have beta for the next person.

I drove back the way I’d come and slowed down when I came to the police officers. I waved to them, and for some unexplainable reason, they waved me on! Woot! Maybe because I’d turned from the residential area and not the main highway they assumed I was a local? In any event, I drove the rough 4WD road to the next trailhead, found a place to park, made dinner, jotted down some trip notes, set out my gear for the next day, walked around the creek for a bit, knitted a hat for tomorrow, read a bit from a Colorado History book, had a few glasses of whiskey and went to bed early (tomorrow was going to be a long day). Oh, and I didn’t see one other vehicle drive down the road the entire time I was there, and it’s Friday to Memorial Day weekend at a well known dispersed camping area.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
05/25/2020 10:21
The police may have been involved in the search for the woman from Maysville who went missing after a bicycle ride nearby.


Very Good
05/26/2020 14:27
Thank You for posting the Trip Report. It is extremely helpful. And, appreciated. Aetna Couloir remains one favorite route of mine. Slightly steep. Great views, too


05/26/2020 19:44
Hey Laura, I'm curious what it is about couloirs that you don't like?


05/27/2020 08:54
When it comes to couloirs I just need more practice. I've done some with rapidly changing conditions (despite early starts and temperature forecasts) and am not yet as comfortable as I'd like to be when the snow softens up too fast or remains bulletproof. I tend to talk honestly about these sketchy experiences when writing my trip reports and unfortunately some people on this site can be quite mean. The comments, while some admittingly are true, are harsh and can be difficult to take. I don't look forward to the negative comments, but still try to learn from them


05/28/2020 09:16
That's understandable. I appreciate you writing all of these trip reports and keeping them real. I think it's far more valuable to write about mistakes, fears, accidents, i.e. the negative stuff, than to hide it. A report of "I did this gnar thing and it was easy" might be fun to read but not necessarily useful to those looking for beta. Keep at the couloirs, they're super fun when you hit them in ideal conditions and with how often you're out you'll be comfortable in no time! Looking forward to seeing more in the future!

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