Climb and ski of Grizzly’s North Couloir (aka Grizzly Couloir) from the Grizzly Reservoir TH
8.5 miles, 3,500′ climbed, 2,600′ skied
It’s just a fact of nature that no matter how much snow we get over the winter, summer will eventually run its course and the snow will disappear. I personally love and welcome this transition, as by this time of year I typically lose the motivation to shoulder a 35 lb pack of ski gear and hike for miles on dry ground to ski a thousand feet of marginal summer snow. Some skiers I know like to keep their options open, and are never willing to fully proclaim that their ski season is over. I prefer defined endings, and this being the case I figured Grizzly’s North Coulour would make for an excellent way to wrap things up.
After helping a good friend of mine DJ a wedding in North Denver, I loaded up my gear and started up I-70 towards Leadville. Although driving on no sleep can be tiring and sometimes even dangerous, some small part of me will always enjoy a solo overnight drive through the heart of Colorado. Throw in some tunes, grab a cup of hot Joe from Conoco, and head for the hills…it’s therapeutic to me. Beyond Leadville I motored up and over Indy Pass, making sure to keep a sharp eye out for deer and the turnoff for the Lincoln Creek Road. A few miles over the pass I hung a left and began the 6 miles to the Portal Campground/Grizzly Reservoir.
After what seemed like an eternity and a several hundred lung fulls of melted clutch stench, I rolled into the campground and located a parking spot. A word of advice on this road: if you have access to a high-clearance vehicle I would highly recommend utilizing it. Though past reports are technically correct, and you can make it work with a passenger car, it’s really not worth the amount of time/tedious driving required to get up this thing with your oil pan intact.
I shouldered my pack and started up the trail just as first light was creeping its way over the horizon. I was very happy with my pace along the trail, one of the benefits of a long spring ski season I suppose. After a good stint in shoes I threw on the boots and started skinning near the creek crossing at 11,400′. Around the corner a little further the peak showed itself, by this time it was bathed in early morning light.
Unfortunately on this day I did not have my camera, so these crappy cell phone shots will have to suffice (a few of these have been made into black and whites in an attempt to mask the fact that they are horrendously washed out). I started up the large moraine below Grizzly Lake’s north shore. The snow was hard, supportive, and good for skinning. Atop the moraine I came upon a group of skiers from Aspen who had passed me a little lower down. After introducing myself they invited me to join them for the climb and ski of the couloir, as long as I could keep up. These guys were all in tremendous shape, I had my work cut out for me.
After 1,200′ of fun snow climbing in a gorgeous setting, we topped out on the summit ridge. From here, the summit is a short stroll to the south. We dropped the skis and headed on over.
At the bottom of the couloir I said my goodbyes to the Aspen crew and took a long break to admire this basin in complete solitude. The sun on my back, a faint mountain breeze, and a fun line behind me, I paid tribute to a great season of skiing in the Rockies.
I slowly followed my tracks back down through the snow, and when it came time, freed my feet from their plastic for the final time this season. Though I will miss the skiing, I will certainly not miss my ski boots.
I savored the hike out, reflecting upon the fact that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to enjoy the mountains to the extent that I do. Having the freedom, the time, and the funds to venture into these beautiful areas numerous times per year is a privilege that many may never enjoy. I simply cannot fall into the complacency of taking it for granted, I am very blessed indeed.
Back at the campground, I decided I wasn’t ready to head back to civilization just yet. After a pair of chilled brews, I laid my gear out on the grass, threw down a blanket, and took a long nap. Here’s to the high country, a fulfilling, adventure-filled snow season, and last but not least, the partners I had the privilege of sharing it all with.
Until next time…