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!

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