Mount Hope Ski: The Hopeful Couloir

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Making turns down the Hopeful Couloir, Sawatch Range.

Partners: Brian, Elliot, Rick, Jamie, andJason
Route: Ascent of Hope’s East Ridge from Sheep Gulch TH, summit ski descent of the Hopeful, ascent to Hope Pass, ski to ~11,600′ off Hope Pass’ south side
Numbers: 7.5 miles, 4,700′ climbed, 2,200′ skied, 9 hours RT

It’s no secret this season has been less than stellar for the Colorado snow enthusiast. Many have decided to hang up their boards in pursuit of other hobbies, as the thin snowpack continues to dwindle in the face of relentless sun and heat. Though good skiing has indeed been difficult to find this year, there is still some to be found if one searches in the right place. I feel this season is simply about taking a look around and finding what’s good, and going after it. Pursuing any kind of predetermined list is inevitably going to lead to disappointing conditions. There just isn’t enough snow to be picky, unfortunately.

Last week I skied Democrat’s South Face with a group of good friends (I owe a thank you to Gueza for providing the TR/conditions report that prompted the trip), and on the summit I made sure to take a moment to survey the adjacent peaks and ranges for potential lines. The landscape to the north, south, and east resembled one I’d expect to find in mid October, but what I saw to the west brought me some hope (corny I know, but I couldn’t resist :D). Across the Arkansas River Valley the Sawatch wasn’t looking that bad, and my eyes came to rest upon a great looking line. Stacked with white from top to bottom, this line instantly shot to the top of my spring list. Though I’m not adequately acquainted with Colorado’s 13ers (yet) and therefore didn’t know what I was looking at, I snapped this single photo for later research:

Mount Hope, taken from Democrat’s summit, March 24th, 2012.

Of course anyone who knows the Centennials well would instantly recognize this as Mt. Hope (duh), so fast forward to Friday night…a group of us were parked at the Sheep Gulch TH, ready to put our hope in Hope (ok, I’ll stop, I promise). After an entertaining evening of down jackets, IPAs, fold out camp chairs, and good company, we geared up and hit the trail at 4am.

Note: Initially there was some debate regarding which approach to use for the Hopeful. Both ski TRs I found involved the southern approach, but Brian and I had talked all week about the possibility of an approach from Willis Gulch to the north. An approach from the north may have had some advantages; a lower snow line, a more gentle grade, and a full on view of the Hopeful during the approach, but ultimately we decided on Sheep Gulch as the route is shorter and more direct, and hiking in shoes with skis and boots on the back can be very efficient. Lastly, we heard the foot bridge that provides passage across Lake Creek is currently out, does anyone have an update on this?

Back to the story, the well defined trail meanders up Sheep Gulch, gaining a good chunk of elevation in a fairly short distance. Hiking in the woods with full 35lb packs at Brian’s grueling pace had us tearing off clothing in no time. The stretch of dry trail didn’t seem to last too long; by the time the sun was creeping over the horizon we reached snow line at 11,600′ and traded shoes for boots. Being well above treeline by sunrise, we were treated with spectacular views to the south.

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The Huron Massif.

We were well above the snow line by this point, but we elected to boot the grass as opposed to skinning the frozen crust. When faced with a fork in the road, Brian and I chose booting the snowfield while the rest of the group paralleled us atop the ridge.

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We took some good shots back and forth. Photo by Elliot.

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Once on the summit ridge it’s a ten minute stroll to the top. On our way up we took a moment to look down and survey the line and found…wait a second, could it be? A couloir in pristine condition stretching from the summit to the valley floor below? Couldn’t be, this season sucks remember? Sarcasm aside, the condition of the chute was reminiscent of a typical spring; good, smooth coverage from top to bottom. Needless to say we were all pretty excited. From the summit we clicked in and skied down to the top of the Hopeful.

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Hope’s summit, looking northwest.

Upon investigating the snow it was clear the chute still had some softening to do. The previous night’s freeze had locked things up good and tight, and the shaded northeast aspect just hadn’t received the sun it needed to come into shape. We all knew what to do in this situation…

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Relaxing, waiting for the snow to soften. Photo by Rick.

Periodically checking the snow, we proceeded to sleep, eat, and converse about who knows what for an hour and a half. With a great peak all to ourselves, the sun on our backs, and a good looking line in our near future, none of us were in a hurry to go anywhere anyway. But, at some point the show must go on, so we clicked in and edged on over to the entrance…

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The Hopeful is aesthetic and spectacular; a relatively steep entrance introduces a consistent 35 to 40 degree slope running 1,800′ to the valley floor. Roach refers to it as the Cross Couloir on a smaller scale, I think that sounds about right. Some ski shots:

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Photo by Rick.

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Photo by Rick.

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Photo by Rick.

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The top half of the chute skied close to perfection; a corn layer was present, as well as a nice, forgiving wind crust on the more shaded aspects. We could have waited even longer to drop in. The lower we skied the sweeter the turns got.

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Photo by Rick.

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Photo by Rick.

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A skiing traverse, a water break, and a gear transition later and we were on our way up to Hope Pass.

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Heading to the pass.

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The crew at the pass (L to R – Elliot, Brian, Jamie, Jason, Rick).

From there we had another 700′ vert of skiing before we arrived at the shoe stash. This section of bonus vert will likely only last another week or two. After that you will be able to hike all the way to the pass in shoes.

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Getting some more turns in, and eating up some vert.

An hour and a half later we were back to shorts, sandles, lawn chairs, and beer in the parking lot, with the satisfaction of a fulfilling day fresh in our memory. This was the highlight of the spring season for me, thanks guys for making it happen!

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To reiterate an earlier point, there is good skiing available in this state if you are willing to find it and get after it. I know recent threads and TRs on this site and others have taken a rather pessimistic view on the matter, I hope this TR balances all that out with some optimism, and a little hope (really, I’m done). Don’t get me wrong though, we all still need to do the snow dance.

Thanks for reading!

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