Skiing Mt. Audubon’s (13,233′) Crooked Couloir

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Another prosaic skiing post following a long winter of them. Except maybe not so prosaic for its novelty, because it’s mid-June. At any rate, Peter lured me out to Indian Peaks Wilderness against my better, dirt-loving judgement. We ended up climbing Mt. Audubon (13,233′), and skiing its south face via the Crooked Couloir. It’s a fantastic line: 1600′, much of it sustained over 40 degrees, plum-lining but for a slight dogleg towards an alpine lake that even now in the onset of a hot summer was still frozen over and showing only veins of aquamarine on its surface. Firm but edgeable up top, creamy and not too ridged down below. Certainly a pleasing descent.

The rest of the day highlighted the absurdity of ski mountaineering as an end unto itself. We spent nearly 7 hours out to slide down that vein of snow, the vast majority hiking in trail shoes. This included a solid 6 miles of asphalt road in getting to and from the trailhead from the winter closure gate. Why this gate is still closed is a secret known only to the Forest Service — it will probably open tomorrow — but as we failed to bring bikes, the joke is on us.

Certainly the crux of the trip was the usually mellow tundra walk up Mt. Audubon’s east ridge, which became a draining ordeal in constant, 35 mph + winds. Talus-hopping required particular patience, as a poorly timed leap into the ravenous gusts could easily sweep you off the feet. We huddled in the summit’s rock castles for some time, trying to muster enthusiasm for the unseen plunge.

As reported, it turned out great, and we soon were at the shores of Blue Lake, faced with at least six miles of slogging over melting snow and that cursed asphalt back to the car, a slow, relatively low-exertion sort of travel that is nonetheless uniquely exhausting to me. Inevitably, we joked half-seriously about whether it was “worth it.” Perhaps not, but I think the beauty of the sport is how thoroughly it ignores, defies, subverts such valuations. An old axiom in mountaineering (c.f. “Conquistadors of the Useless”), but one that bears repeating, I think.

And once in a while, relearning firsthand.
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Looking north to Longs Peak massif and Rocky Mountain National Park.
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Peter wishes it weren’t windy.
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Blue Lake from the entrance to the couloir. Beginning at a welcoming 35 degrees, it quickly steepens.
crooked6Peter, halfway down.
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Home free.
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Mt. Toll (12979′)
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Crooked Couloir is the obvious top to bottom chute in the center of the frame.

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