Easter Ski: Mt. Arkansas Northeast Couloir

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The line, seen from the Clinton/Traver connecting ridge, March 17th.

Partners: Brian, Marc, Rick, and John
Route: Ascent and ski descent of the Northeast Couloir on Arkansas from 11,100′ on Trail Road
Stats: 2,700′ climbed and skied, ~5 miles RT

Brian, Rick, and I spied this line from the summit of Traver Peak in mid March and made a mental note of it. Three weeks later our search for ski lines in good condition had not gotten any easier, so we figured we’d go with what we knew and check out Arkansas. Partners for this short yet rewarding day ended up being Brian and Rick, Marc the monoplanker, and Rick’s friend John whom he had met through Friends of Berthoud.

Needless to say, things had melted out a bit between when the above photo was taken and when we skied it. Regardless, the couloir was in good condition save for the choke section just below the summit ridge. More on that later.

We set off at 6am from the Trail Road/Route 91 intersection (at the hair pin turn just south of Fremont Pass). Skinning from the parking lot, we made quick progress southward through the East Fork Arkansas Drainage. Once we reached the amphitheater due east of Arkansas, the couloir came into view…

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A few grass patches forced us to remove our skis briefly, but otherwise we were able to skin all the way to the base of the chute.

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Crampons and axes came out, and we started on up.

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Working it up the bootpack. Photo by Brian.

This couloir maintains a consistent 40 to 45 degree pitch for a 1,000′, and tops out at 50 or so. The snow was perfect for kicking steps up the chute on this day, and we knew we’d be skiing corn on the descent.

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Marc, our lone splitboarder.

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John and Brian halfway up the couloir.

Upon climbing through the crux choke, we realized that although it appeared skiable from a distance, it was ctually a few inches of sugar snow on top of rock and ice.

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Brian nearing the top of the couloir. The terrain through here was steep and narrow on this day.

We ran into Darin Baker and Mike Rodenick at the top of the couloir. They climbed the couloir ahead of us and had just topped out on the summit ridge a few minutes prior. Thanks for the booter gentlemen!

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Mike says hello. Photo by Brian.

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The exit. Photo courtesy of Mike Rodenick.

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Looking north at the Gores and the final false summit of Arkansas’ North Ridge route.

We dropped our skis at the top of the chute and scrambled the remaining 50′ to the summit. Mike was kind enough to provide the group with some Easter themed jelly beans. Thanks Mike!

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On top of Ark.

After thirty minutes on the summit and a short down climb back to the top of the chute, we were ready to ski. Marc, realizing the folly of attempting to ski from the summit ridge elected to down climb and strap in below the crux. The rest of us however skied from the top, thinking that we might be able to keep skis on and sidestep through the choke.

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View of my ski tips, with Marc nearing the end of his down climb.

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Steep turns off the top. Photo by Rick.

After making a few fairly freaky jump turns, I arrived at the crux and attempted to work through it with my skis on. It took me a few minutes to realize this was not going to be possible. My ski tips were hitting rock on both sides, and I was not keen on the idea of side hucking several vertical feet onto steep terrain. After removing my skis and passing them down to Marc, I climbed through the crux and clicked back in. Marc and I cleared out to make room for the rest of the group.

The transition/down climb through the crux took each of us ten to fifteen minutes, and became progressively more difficult as we each climbed through and cleared out more and more snow. Rick and John took up the rear and therefore had it the worst; they described having nothing more than verglass covered rock to work with. After what seemed like an eternity, we all made it through this section without error and skied out the remainder of the chute. To boil down my description above into a single, pertinent piece of beta; the crux is NOT in.

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John down climbing through the crux. Photo by Rick.

Below the crux, the skiing was excellent.  A few shots of Marc…

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Rick making turns high in the couloir. Photo by John.

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A zoom shot from afar.

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…and lastly, our tracks.

I’m not sure how this chute will be looking after this latest storm, but I’d guess the crux would require at least a foot of new and another foot or two of wind load before going cleanly. Might not happen this season, but we’ll see.

Cheers!

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