TR: Mt. Arkansas 4/12/2015
This one was a special one. Mt. Arkansas, just south of Fremont Pass in the Mosquito Range, is a relatively unknown peak due to the fact that it's hidden from view from any highways, and at 13,795', falls just short of most peak bagger's ticklists as Colorado's 108th highest peak. However, it's highly visible from a popular 14er (Mt. Democrat) and some of the other high peaks in the area and occupies an important geographic position at the head of the Arkansas River.
Skiing this peak was a bit of a saga for me. This successful descent was actually my third attempt on the peak. I first heard of the striking North Couloir from my friends Mike Records and Brennan Metzler, who skied/snowboarded the North Couloir in spring of 2013. The following season, the line appeared in a couple new guidebooks, and I caught my first glimpse of the line when Ryan Krum and I skied Clinton Peak in March 2014. This shot was taken later on our second attempt, but I think it explains pretty clearly why we wanted to ski this line.
Shortly after we first spied the line, on 4/20/14, Christina Vela, Ryan Krum, and I made our first attempt on Arkansas. It was actually our plan C that day; we elected not to go for Pyramid Peak due to energy levels and aborted Savage Peak due to a plowed and un-snowmobilable, yet gated access road. We woke up late and tired, and in a subsequent series of poor judgement calls, skinned up into the apron of the couloir where we were hit by a rather large and scary natural wet loose slough off the hanging snowfields above. Other than me sacrificing a glove to the cause, we were shaken up but OK, and promptly bailed to the nearest brewpub to discuss our mistakes.
This season, strange weather brought a spring snowpack to the mountains early, and on 3/22/15 Krum, Becca Hedley, and I had another go at it. This time we were on our game, skinned up to the apron, dug a quick shallow pit, and found a stable yet still wintery snowpack. We began climbing the apron, and despite no empirical evidence to back it up, something just didn't feel right. Call it deja vu, call it intuition, whatever – all I knew is I wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. Once again, we turned around at the top of the apron and skied back to the truck.
A couple weeks later, my friends Ryan and Katie Williams tried it, and made it about halfway up the line before deteriorating conditions turned them around.
That set the stage for a bunch of people hungry to get the line done safely and properly. Our group this day was rather large. Ryan Krum had been with me on both of my previous attempts, and joined me for this one. I've known Ryan Williams longer than any of my other friends, and after he and his wife Katie got turned around a week prior, they were stoked to have another go. They brought along their friend Dan Hendershott, who loves skiing steep scary stuff, and we headed out on my 30th birthday for another try.
I had zero interest in attempting to climb the couloir again. I feel it has exceptionally high and unnecessary objective danger from hanging snowfields on skier's right and rockfall from the walls on skier's left, and a cornice at the top. So once I learned that the North Ridge is a feasible ascent route, we elected to go that way. I would highly recommend this ascent, as it's safer, just as fast, and has some fun climbing. Here Krum approaches the most difficult section, which we passed by downclimbing 50' west off the ridge crest.
We made good time to the summit, but a cold NW wind prevented us from lingering. I dropped in first and found terrible, punchy snow through the upper crux. The line isn't as filled in as usual in this low snow year, and the bad snow in the 50+ degree, ski width crux with fatal consequences in the event of a fall relegated us to cautious sideslipping. Dan had to lay down on his stomach above a small cornice and cliff to get this photo of me negotiating the top section of the line.
I reached a safe zone about 1/3 of the way down and radioed a conditions report back up to the others. Krum dropped in next.
Once through the narrow crux, we were able to make some very careful jump turns to the first safe zone. Krum winding up for one.
Fortunately, the snow quality improved as we descended. As Ryan W, Katie, and Dan negotiated the entrance, Krum and I leapfrogged down the remainder of the couloir from safe zone to safe zone. The snow never got great, as northerly winds the night before had stiffened the snow surface, but the snow gradually changed from punchy and scary at the top to slightly grabby but fun powder in the apron. Here's Krum finishing out the couloir.
Safely at the bottom, Krum and I exchanged high fives and settled in to watch the other three finish their descent.
Up above, Ryan W provided a visual demonstration of how weird the snow conditions were while his wife hopes he holds it together.
He did in fact hold it together, so Katie began her descent into the middle of the couloir.
My regular camera with a good zoom decided it was too cold to function, so I had to shoot with my cell phone. Cell phone cameras have come a long ways, but long range action photography is still a challenge. I think the skier standing down low is Dan and the skier in the couloir is either Ryan or Katie.
Katie exiting the confines of the couloir.
Next, Dan completed his descent, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Williams doing their best Warren Miller audition.
Me, stoked about the line.
Awwwwwww (preview of the Williams' next Christmas card) and Ryan stoked about the line.
Despite the bad snow, we were all psyched to finally get this one done, and done safely. What a way to start my 30's!
Ryan W also put together a video from the day. Check it out.