August, '04


Stormy Weather on The Notch Couloir

Written By: Jason Rite



      The Notch Couloir – Big days like this invariably start the same way – you pull your listless body from the comfort of a warm bed (usually having slept quite poorly to boot) and contemplatively, you slip into Capilene undergarments and fleece layers. I had managed to squeak out one, maybe one and a half hours of uninterrupted slumber before glancing at the clock – it read 1:57. No sense trying to steal another 33 minutes of sleep so I stumbled out of bed and gathered up my pile of clothes at the foot of the bed. This was made worse by the fact that my girlfriend had only just slipped into bed minutes earlier after a night on the town, waking me up despite making every effort not to. I cast a jealous glance at her, now sound asleep, and slipped quietly out of the room. It’s been my finding (and that of many others I suspect) that half of the battle is getting to the trailhead and beginning the arduous journey upward.

     After getting dressed and having my morning coffee I sauntered upstairs and tapped on Brad’s door, simultaneously letting out a loud “yeeee haaaww” to signify my growing anticipation of the day’s events. He rises slowly, informing me that he has slept like #$*% as well – what’s new I think. Soon we are dressed and after running down one final tick list have loaded the car with packs, ice axes and food. We are obviously quite tired, and strictly speaking, I was much more tired than I would have liked to be before launching into such a demanding endeavor. While making our way up the winding Big Thompson Canyon, an ominous scene suddenly unfolded before us as we turned a corner: State Patrol cruisers, ambulances and fire trucks were coalesced on the side of the road indicating that something serious had occurred, at least to our thinking. Neither of us can say with any degree of certainty what happened on that section of highway, but we surmised that kids returning to Loveland or Fort Collins after a night out in Estes Park had imbibed to excess and lost control of their trucks. We even saw several rescue workers searching the Big Thompson River in an excited, hurried state – likely searching for injured or deceased motorists who had slipped into the river following the accident! I don’t know if this struck Brad as a bad omen but I’m sure it briefly crossed his mind too. We motored on thankful that we hadn’t been 15 minutes earlier getting started that morning.

     Soon we pulled into the Longs Peak parking lot and were greeted by the normal collection of giddy hikers and introspective mountaineers. We had not been hiking 20 minutes before we began to question our agenda that day. “Let’s just make it above tree line”, “let’s just make it to Chasm Lake”, “we can still turn back now and get in two routes at Lumpy”. We decide to press on despite our extreme sleep deprivation and our determination would pay off. Soon we were warming up nicely and our bodies begin to cooperate as we climbed higher above tree line. Admittedly I could have been in better shape as the elevation gain took it’s toll, forcing me to stop periodically to catch my breath as we crept above 11, 500. Surprisingly it wasn’t long before we neared Chasm View Lake and our jumping off point came into view on the other side. Brad reached the base of Lamb’s Slide first and settled on the boulders protruding from the snow to crampon-up, hydrate and devour some food. I arrived soon after and did likewise, enjoying an orange and some donuts. I was anxious yet fascinated by the coming trek up Lamb Slide as this was my first dedicated snow climb.

     Soon we we’re off – kicking and slicing our way up the slide. We both found the snow in grand form, much to our delight. Our crampons and ice axes reassuringly purchased the hardened snow comforting me as we had forgone roping up in favor of expediency. I found the experience exhilarating if not tiring as I was forced to stop frequently to catch my breath as we neared 13,000 ft. It seemed to take an eternity to reach Broadway, which may have been the one factor that kept me up the night before. I had heard various accounts from several sources about the perils of traversing Broadway, and they ranged from “pretty hairy” to downright scary depending on conditions. Fortunately conditions were such that we decided to begin the traverse un-roped, which we later decided may not have been the wisest of decisions, but successful nonetheless. Needless to say we did rope up for the second half, which yours truly gingerly lead. By no means was the climbing difficult, yet there was a distinct element of excitement as I was climbing somewhat technically in crampons for the first time, and just below the sloping snow bank 800 ft of air loomed large in my mind. To top it all off the weather was starting to break down and the precipice below me was completely obscured by an eerie fog that had been drifting in and out at regular intervals.

     We successfully cleared Broadway and made our way over to the exceedingly steep entrance of the Notch Couloir itself. By this time the weather was deteriorating with each passing minute, and Brad slowly disappeared from sight as he led the first pitch. Despite the rapidly dropping temperature and snow showers that began to develop, the mild temperatures and sunny skies of the early morning had softened the deeper snow of the couloir considerably and we were prone to posthole up to our waists. The couloir was spectacular to behold as the fog raced up that narrow, granite alley while the sound of gurgling water below the snowfield surging towards Chasm Lake made for an especially tranquil moment. Brad was nearing the end of the first pitch and I had completely lost sight of him in the fog. I was very wet; a mixture of sweat, snow and melt off had conspired to chill me to the bone as I launched into the first pitch. I had taken one precaution before leaving that morning and it paid off here. I reached into my pack and pulled out another set of gloves and liners and set off, quite content with myself for having had the foresight to plan so well – a quality I am not always known for. I reached the end of pitch 1 after stalling out several times from lack of energy – by this time I was beginning to feel the more common effects of altitude – slight dizziness and the faint onset of a migraine. Bad news as anyone who knows my penchant for developing the debilitating headaches can attest.

   After a quick changeover Brad was off again. The climbing thus far had been strenuous but not all that heady, save a few sections of Broadway. That was to change quite suddenly: the rope stopped feeding and I faintly heard Brad call out “Watch me”! Two minutes went by and the moment had passed as he successfully negotiated an ill protected, crumbling snow bridge that spanned a waterfall running between one side of the couloir and a plate-like section of rock just adjacent. “Shit that was scary” – these were the only words from the fearless leader who had, up to that point, grown accustomed to brute force snow climbing and was suddenly confronted with a technical section (in crampons) that might give anyone pause, even in the absence of snow and freezing temperatures. I couldn’t wait for my turn!! Anyway the climbing from here on out was pretty consistent – consistently tiring and miserable! I can’t say the climbing itself was miserable; I was just getting quite cold and tired by that time. I had reached that point in the day where I had just had enough. This may not be the case for everyone, but it seems that most people cross a mental and/or physical boundary between having a good time and not, especially when they are very cold, very tired and have the prospect of a seven mile hike out ahead of them.

     It seemed like another couple of hours before we reached the notch itself, but the final stretch was made a little more enjoyable as Brad and I swung lead on the last two pitches and I finished up. The excitement of topping out took my mind off the extreme fatigue that was threatening to nullify any satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I anticipated. Soon Brad joined me on top and we were ready to begin our descent. To our surprise there was no rap station (at least one that we could find), so we were forced to leave my 3rd cordelette behind – Dammit!! This seemed to be a habitual event whenever we went out on a big day, but at that point my irritation faded fast as I was super excited about the long hike down to the trailhead!! (heavy sarcasm). We rapped down and made our way around to the loft where the fog had really set in and reduced visibility to about 50 ft. This made navigation a little trickier but Captain Brad managed to find the telltale landmarks and we were back on track again. Before hitting the trail we would have one more little adventure – about 800 ft. of glissading! This was another exciting first for me and on top of that it spared my already weakened quads the pounding that tromping downhill with heavy packs can bring.

     We reached the car just as the pouring rain set in – one more thing to be thankful for I thought. We loaded up and headed into Estes for Mexican and Coronas. We met Lisa and her boyfriend Alex and rehashed the day’s events – it was nice to discuss it with people who had been there and done that. All in all it was a really good day and a nice tick to boot. My introduction to snow climbing could have been a little less of a suffer fest than the 18 or 19 hour day we had on Longs, but in the end I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Our credo “In over your head all the time” still rang true.

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Jason arriving at the Chasm Lake trail junction.


Sunrise over Twin Sisters mountain.


Taking in the views on the approach.



Getting our first look at the conditions on the route.



The beautiful vista upon entering the Chasm Lake cirque.



Another shot of the east face.



Snowfields and Shadows.


A closeup of the route, which traverses in from the left on Broadway and climbes the obvious couloir to the notch.


A pair of climbers crossing Mill's Glacier en route to the North Chimney.

Chasm View Wall.


Looking up at Mill's Glacier and the Stettner's Ledges buttress on the Lower East Face of Long's Peak.



Jason dons his crampons for his first snowclimb.


Self portrait with Lamb's Slide in the background.


Getting started on the snow.


Looking up from 300 feet up Lamb's Slide.


Jason feeling comfortable on moderately steep snow in the lower part of the couloir.


Looking down at me as I catch up with Jason.



Jason negociates a steeper section of Lamb's Slide.



Jason gives some perspective to the width of the couloir.



Traversing right to stay on the solid snow.



Jason makes the final traverse across Lamb's Slide to reach Broadway.



A close up of the previous shot.

Jason arrives on Broadway just as the stormy weather catches up with us.


Thsi picture was taken just after the previous shot. In less than a minute, our visibiility dropped from a mile or more, to less than 100 meters.


Jason thrid-classing his way across one of the Broadway cruxes.

Jason on Broadway.

Still making our way across Boradway with the clouds moving in around us..


More snow covered, third-class terrain.


Back in the clouds. While disconcerting, they didn't give us any precipation until we were in the upper couloir.


Jason approaches our rope up point.

Jason enjoys the stellar views :)


As soon as we roped up, the clouds opened up for a while. This is Jason crossing what most people consider to be the crux of Broadway in summer.


A brief look at the Diamond and a blue sky.


Jason leading us across the last rope length before we started up the Notch Couloir.


That's me leaving Broadway up the first pitch of the route proper.

Looking down at Jason as he follows the first pitch up the Notch Coulour.


Setting off on the second pitch, as you can see, the weather has found us again.


Jason makes his way to the third belay.


Jason working out the 5.6 moves that constituted the crux of the route. Exciting stuff when you're in a storm at 14,000ft and wearing crampons.


Back down at Chasm Lake. All that remains is the 5 mile hike back to the car.

A tired and happy Cookie contemplates the remaining 5 miles. We made it down in time for beer and a meal with Lisa and Alex. :)

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