Partners: Carl Dowdy, Marc Barella, Matt Kamper
Route(s): Ascent and summit ski descent of the East Couloir on Mt. Eolus from camp at 10,900`, ascent of North Mt. Eolus, ski descent of east facing couloir into upper Chicago Basin and back to camp. Deproach from camp back to Needleton.
Numbers: 2.5 miles, 4,000′ (ski descents of Eolus and North Eolus from camp), 6.5 mile deproach.
This day held some hefty goals for our group: climb and ski two more peaks, break down and pack up camp, and slog it 6.5 miles back to Needleton in time to catch the 3pm train. Though the day seemed daunting, I was fairly confident our group would be able to pull it off. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…
We departed camp at 4am and followed the booter from the previous day`s traffic up the southeast side of Eolus. Because we knew a nice booter was in place (courtesy of a big group that climbed Eolus the previous day) we elected to leave the skins behind. I think the monumental nature of the day had us a bit anxious in the beginning, I say this because we managed to climb 2,200` in the first hour and a half out of camp. In two hours we found ourselves staring up the East Couloir through a thick fog that had slowly settled in on us as we climbed. The mountain weather this spring has continued to be a total tossup.
The East Couloir is short and to the point, we topped out in less than 30 minutes and began a climbing traverse up the west side of the peak. Once again we were blessed with a wide snow ramp connecting the top of the couloir to the summit. We arrived on top of Eolus and threw the skis on for the descent back to the couloir.
The section just off the top sported some less-than-desirable conditions: lots of ice, frozen ripples, and dirt crust. We ended up skiing down the west side a bit below the notch, then side stepping back up with the skis on our feet.
We skied it one at a time, grouping together once at a safe zone skier`s left in the middle of the chute. The conditions lower down were similar to that on the west side, nothing some aggressive turns couldn`t keep in check though. Some ski shots (Matt, Carl, Marc, and myself):
Three down, one to go. The skis came off and it was back to booting, but not before a small gear malfunction and repair on one of Matt`s FT12 bindings. North Eolus did not look far away, less than thirty minutes at the rate we were moving. It was 9:15am so the race was officially on at this point.
At this point we discussed our ski options. Skiing back down the South Ridge/Face seemed like it was gonna be a time sucker, and we could see a big snow dollup on the ridge northeast of our position that looked similar in elevation to the summit. We thought it was as good a bet as any so Marc began to scramble over to it. After about 20 feet on the ridge proper it was clear a down climb would be necessary to traverse underneath an impassible tower of rock, so off the north side of North Eolus we went.
We climbed back up to regain the ridge, and put skis on at the highest logical point we could. From here we skied southeast through a large open bowl and connected to a narrow couloir that drops into upper Chicago Basin. This was a really fun, interesting way to ski North Eolus. Matt, kudos for scouting the route.
Once we regrouped, we enjoyed several hundred feet of terrain that finally allowed us to open things up a little bit. This is without a doubt the mellowest thing we skied on these peaks.
We met up with our ski tracks from the previous day and skied the same route back to camp, arriving with just under 4 hours left on the game clock. At this point we knew we had it in the bag if we could get camp broken down efficiently.
The slog back to Needleton was brutal. I`m sure I could think of a few more words to describe it but that one will have to do. We made it back with about 30 minutes to spare, certainly enough time to grab the beer we had stashed in a mesh bag in the Animas. Like clockwork, the train showed up at 3pm.
With the gear loaded and the trip in the bag, we enjoyed a long, relaxing ride back to Durango.
This was an incredible trip with an incredible group of partners. Thanks for making it happen guys! And thank you for reading!