Mt. Maude - West Couloir
December 23rd, 2004
Phil and I talked about heading up to Mt. Maude before Christmas, and
with scheduling aside we were left with a day and a solid weather forecast.
Sunny conditions had prevailed for the previous several days and there
was still very little snow on the ground. We drove over a quiet Stevens
pass Wednesday night, as the ski area was closed. Not long after we made
the turn onto the Fish Lake road from HW 2. We arrived at the snopark
just past midnight.
The road up to the Phelps creek trailhead is a groomed snowmobile track,
so at 4:00 am the next morning we loaded up all our gear onto Phil's sled
and headed off. We had 23 miles of road and it was totally freezing out.
With all my clothes on, I was shaking after about 15 minutes. I had brought
goggles but unfortunately they had molded sitting on the ground outside
for the past few years, so I just kept my head down behind Phil and tried
to rest some more. This being Phil's 3rd attempt at Maude in winter, he
was surprised to find that the road was simply smooth compacted snow all
the way to the trailhead. We joked that with chains we probably could
have just driven to the trailhead in the truck.
We put snowshoes on the packs and donned our skis for the slog up the
Phelps creek valley around 5:30 am. The trail was long and it was dark
as we followed an old cross-country ski track through the woods. I was
glad Phil was leading the way so I could just concentrate on putting one
foot in front of the other... a mental trick that I would employ often
during the rest of the day.
Eventually we reached Leroy Creek and ditched the skis. To our relief,
the old ski track continued up the valley towards Spider Meadows. The
snowshoeing was pretty easy as there was little snow coverage and a solid
crust. We made good time up towards Leroy basin.
Phil climbing up along Leroy Creek in the early morning.
We had discussed attempting several of the standard routes,
but I had heard something about a couloir that climbed directly above
Leroy basin to the summit. It wasn't long before Mt. Maude came into view
and we decided that the West Face Couloir was the obvious route. Getting
there was, however, another matter. Once we ascended up into the basin
the snow became soft and deep. I broke trail for a long time, but was
feeling good with the rise of the sun and the excitement of the climb
being so close now.
Mt. Maude's West Face with the couloir running left to right.
Phil starting up the route.
Below the route we packed up our snowshoes and donned crampons.
We saved weight by not bringing any technical gear, just crampons and
an axe. This turned out to be just right, as the climbing in the couloir
was mellow frozen snow and neve ranging from 35-45 degrees.
Looking down around half height.
The route went on and on, and I was starting to get really
tired. There weren't really good places to rest, so we had to keep moving
and I sang techno songs in my head to distract me. Phil, with some sort
of summit-enduced second wind started wasting me about 1000ft below the
summit. It was all I could do to keep up with him!
Climbing out of the couloir and onto the crest of the upper mountain.
Phil approaching the summit rocks.
Phil on top of Mt. Maude!
After 5 miles and 5400ft we both stood on the summit at
12:30 pm. I was completely wasted. We gathered our wits about us and ate
some food in the warm sunshine. The views were amazing with all of the
snow-clad Cascades laid out in front of us. Laying down on my pack, I
could have just camped out there all day long.
Descending the South shoulder with Icy Lakes below.
We descended down the South shoulder, finding some large
(4" diameter) animal tracks. From here we dropped into a basin on
the West side and climbed down until we were cliffed out. A traverse skiers
right above the cliff band brought us down a route we had spied earlier
in the day. By now the afternoon sun had softened the snow, and it made
for difficult walking that changed with every step. I skied down the trail
without my skins which provided (as my old mentor used to say) a true
mountaineering feel: Long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of
extreme terror! At 5:30pm the final unknown, would the sled start, was
surmounted and we headed for home. Thanks Phil, looks like the third time
is a charm!
Ready for a hot shower!